How many generations of younger, bigger, more powerful power forwards has A.C. Green outlasted?
How many careers has he seen wasted on the training table, or in street clothes, or in nightclubs, as he kept playing and playing and playing?
How could a lanky, 36-year-old, deeply religious man survive 1,042 consecutive games in the NBA, break all the Iron Man records, and still have legs lively enough to make even 21-year-old Kobe Bryant shake his head?
“Kobe calls me the youngest ‘old head’ he knows,” the Laker veteran forward said proudly Monday. “He says I have too much energy for an old guy.”
Energy, faith, discipline, abstinence--whatever it is that has fueled him for 13 consecutive years of basketball without sitting out a game, it still runs strong, and it makes him one of the most amazing athletic specimens the NBA has ever seen.
“It really is hard to fathom,” said Laker Executive Vice President Jerry West.
The last time Green sat out was Nov. 18, 1986, when then-Laker coach Pat Riley chose not to play him. Green had a torn ligament in his right thumb at the time, but stuck a splint on it and thought he could play.
He played the next game, and has not missed one since, breaking Ron Boone’s professional basketball record for consecutive games last Friday.
One thousand forty-three is tonight, in Seattle, guaranteed.
“People have always said, ‘Gosh, when you get older, those little bruises are going take so much longer to heal,’ ” Green said. “But I don’t believe it, and I haven’t seen it thus far.”
Green got the highest score on the Laker treadmill test before training camp, causing, he says, numerous double-takes among the Laker medical staff and a few recalculations, just to make sure.
“He’s a godsend,” said Gary Vitti, the Lakers’ athletic trainer. “You actually have to go to him and make sure he’s OK. . . . He’s the kind of guy that he doesn’t even know when he’s hurt. You’ve got to kind of keep tabs on him.”
Literally by the grace of God, Green says, he has endured--through back spasms, a severely upset stomach last season in Dallas and a sore ankle early this season.
“There hasn’t been a game where I thought about not playing,” he said. “My thought always has been, ‘God, give me the faith to be able to play.’ . . . You can only prepare yourself so much to get yourself right and ready. Sometimes, that’s just not enough, you have to ask for extra help. That’s why I firmly believe the power of God lives within me.”
This is, of course, Green’s second tour with the Lakers, after signing as a free agent with the Phoenix Suns in 1993 and spending the last 2 1/2 seasons in Dallas.
The Lakers acquired Green almost as an afterthought last summer, after several bigger-named and bigger-bodied power forwards opted not to come to L.A.
But West says that the new rules, which discourage wrestling on the post, plus Coach Phil Jackson’s share-the-ball offense, make Green a more formidable factor, as long as he doesn’t have to play 30-35 minutes a game.
“He’s not the most physically huge guy that you could find, but with the new rules in place, we felt that he would be a big help to us,” West said.
“He still has a great nose for the ball, and his enthusiasm is very, very contagious. On a team where you don’t ask him to be your primary player, but a player who fits in with Phil’s team concept, he certainly can be very, very productive. And he has been.”
Green has averaged 7.9 rebounds--second on the team--and 6.1 points in 27.5 minutes. And his two most notable performances have been on defense, holding Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, a Laker nemesis, to bad shooting performances in two Laker victories.
He has yet to face young stars Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, and says he wouldn’t complain if the Lakers wanted to land a bigger, young player, but Green says he cannot wait for the matchups, especially if he is expected to be overwhelmed.
“Some nights, I might get killed and they might just have to drag me off,” he said. “But at the same time, my heart’s going to be left on that court, my blood and tears. . . .
“I love the challenge. I love playing the guys who are expected to kill me. As they say, the old man has a few tricks still.”
Meanwhile, that other famous Green streak is very much alive too. He is still a virgin, 36 years and counting.
“Not everyone will side with it and believe in abstinence at any age of life, or even fidelity at any age,” Green said. “You have to make a decision.
“You can easily choose to be one that’s going to be sexually active and constantly out there revealing all your sexual appetites. That’s an option I could have, being in the NBA, sure. I could make that decision right now.
“And I don’t think it would be hard to go down that row, very simple. But does that mean it’s right? Very few can try and walk the road that I’ve been able to walk.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The NBA’s top three active streaks, most consecutive games played:
No. Player (Team): Streak
1. A.C. Green (Lakers): 1,042*
2. Hersey Hawkins (Bulls): 524
3. Terry Porter (Spurs): 346
* NBA record
LAKERS at SEATTLE
The Lakers get their first look at reborn former Laker Ruben Patterson.