Old A.C. Green.
Sitting like a dean.
Watching the Lakers go far.
Along came a bear, and sat on his hair.
And everyone said, Dude, that’s bizarre.
This is the story about the little green bear that sometimes sits atop the head of the Lakers’ big power forward.
Don’t laugh. This is serious.
He is an important figure. He represents an important ethic. He is about strength, endurance, respect.
We’re talking, of course, about the bear.
Green has played in 1,110 consecutive regular-season games and counting, an NBA record.
The biggest moments of his Laker season will begin with today’s start of the Western Conference finals when, after struggling with Sacramento’s Chris Webber and Phoenix’s Cliff Robinson, he will be asked to guard Portland’s Rasheed Wallace.
But small stuff, all of it, compared to the difficulty in keeping your balance in the middle of a nightly orgy of sexy music and sexy dancers and sexy starlets . . .
While promoting celibacy.
That’s the little green bear’s job.
His name is Little A.C.
Which stands for “Abstinence Committed.”
Which means no sex before marriage.
If you can’t imagine how, a reminder is written on his back.
“I’ve got the power,” it reads.
And right about now, inquiring Laker minds are thinking, maybe A.C. Green has lost his.
They’re thinking, it’s bad enough, in the playoffs, on national TV, a 36-year-old man comes to the bench and puts a stuffed animal on his head.
They’re wondering, all that, and this bear is not even something halfway understandable like a good-luck charm or a superstition?
This bear, which the cameras find more often than Dyan Cannon, is nothing more than a billboard for abstinence?
Right about now, inquiring Laker minds might be sorry they asked.
If so, they aren’t the only ones.
“I had a teammate come up to me and say, ‘You don’t know how silly you look with that bear on your head,’ ” Green said. “I told him, ‘You don’t know how silly you look when you’re running around at night half-drunk.’ ”
Perhaps that’s all anyone needs to know about that.
The bear promotes not only the tenets of Green’s well-known lifestyle--he says he’s still a virgin--but also his foundation.
Based in Phoenix, the A.C. Green Youth Foundation espouses abstinence before marriage as part of a wider range of programs that encourage youth decision-making and empowerment.
The foundation has gone so far as to design an abstinence curriculum for local schools.
“Look at all the abortions, look at all the single moms, and you see a huge problem,” Green said. “Sex is moving. Sex is on the rampage. We need to be more responsible about it.”
He wonders why the same people who embrace tough anti-drug and alcohol advertisements cringe upon hearing something so basic.
“This is not something new, it’s old,” Green said. “Being responsible. Taking care of your body.”
And, oh yes, last Christmas, the A.C. Green Youth Foundation decided to pass out some bears.
Nearly 19,000 of them were given to everyone who attended the Lakers’ victory over the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center.
Then foundation director GinaMarie Scarpa had an idea.
“I thought, good guys never get any publicity, it goes to all the bad guys,” she recalled. “So I told A.C., ‘Why don’t you start bringing your bears to the games? It would be a great opportunity to promote the foundation.’ ”
Green’s first reaction was perhaps similar to your first reaction.
“He said, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Scarpa recalled.
But she stayed on him. She mentioned that beer and shoe companies don’t have any qualms using Laker games to promote themselves, so why shouldn’t he?
The man who rarely flinches finally caved.
“I thought, ‘OK, why not, it’s fun, it’s my lifestyle, it’s me,’ ” Green said.
So shortly after Christmas, he began carrying the bear with him to the court in the pocket of his warmups.
“But only to games,” he said. “The bear is like most NBA players, he doesn’t like practice or shoot-arounds.”
And then one day, Scarpa received a phone call from a stunned friend.
“She said, ‘I was just watching a Laker game, and A.C. is wearing the bear on his head,’ ” Scarpa recalled. “I told her, ‘No, he wasn’t. No, he was not.’ ”
The next night, the Lakers played again, Scarpa turned on the TV and, sure enough, the Lakers’ starting forward donned the world’s ugliest--or cutest--toupee.
“I thought it was adorable,” Scarpa said. “I said, ‘You go, A.C.!’ ”
Green, a quietly mysterious sort, doesn’t remember when or even why he put the bear on his head.
Even now, there is no pattern. Some games he wears it, some games he just holds it.
“I don’t even think about it, I just do it,” he said.
And, of course, Coach Phil Jackson would never ask him to put it away.
Or did you miss the “Bill Bradley For President” button that Jackson wore last winter?
If Jackson can take an anti-personality stance, then Green can certainly be anti-sex.
And, really, nobody elsewhere in the Laker organization would dare ask him to put it away.
Or have you missed the fact that the Laker “Sandwich-Board” Girls sometimes wear the name of a beer company across their chests?
Or how about the rotating advertisements in front of the press table?
Lately it seems as though everybody at the arena is selling something. Compared to some products, perhaps we should not ridicule Green’s message, but embrace it.
Many people have. Since he started wearing the bear on his head, inquiries about purchasing one ($10 plus shipping) through the www.acgreen.com Web site have increased from about two daily to 100 daily.
“It’s been bears, bears, bears,” Scarpa said. “The message was so simple, the public just grabbed it.”
Some have wondered whether the bear has grabbed too much of Green. He has disappeared from several playoff games, and his intensity will be challenged immediately this week by the Trail Blazers’ Wallace and Brian Grant.
At this notion of distraction, Green smiles and shrugs the way he smiles and shrugs at everything.
“It isn’t like I’m holding the bear in my hand when I dribble or shoot,” he said. “I would hope that they would realize I couldn’t play in that many consecutive games without understanding about focus. This is not affecting my focus.”
Jackson continues to start him despite Robert Horry’s recent effectiveness because “That’s been our rhythm, it’s working, and I don’t want to change it.”
But he did issue a challenge.
“I think A.C.'s had some good games for us, but he’s also been the player that teams try to work off of,” Jackson said. “You know, they go at him a little more when he’s on defense, and rove off him a little more when he’s on offense.”
Beginning today, this will happen more than ever.
“I’m going to play him 25 minutes, and I’m asking him to do what he can, to keep hustling and working, to grab rebounds on offense and defense,” Jackson said.
Green says he understands.
“I haven’t played my best, but now it’s a situation, in a big series against my hometown team, it’s the best platform possible for me,” he said.
As well as for Little A.C.
Perched precariously amid the clattering excess, gaze strong, never fidgeting, never falling.
And he’s the weird one?
Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.