When he was a rookie, and other players mocked his devout Christianity and his decision to abstain from sex until marriage, A.C. Green's steadfast faith helped him silence his doubters.
Eight seasons into his career at power forward for the Lakers, he was asked to play shooting guard while Byron Scott was idled because of a sprained foot. His same faith sustained Green through another trying time.
"I said, whatever it takes to equal victories and good, solid play, I was willing to try it," said Green, who hadn't played guard since a brief try in college, at Oregon State. "If that even meant trying to play point guard, I'll shake my head and rub my face and we can talk about that a little bit longer, but if that's what you want me to do, Coach, it's OK, I'll try it.
"It was really, really new. But one thing about me is I don't feel I have many limitations. I feel I can do just about anything. The Bible tells me--and I really believe in the Bible--Philippians 4:13 says, 'I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,' and this is Scripture that I take to heart and really try to apply to my life. So there's not a lot of things I really feel I can't do."
He has lived those words as a starter and a reserve through 527 consecutive regular-season games, the longest streak in team history and the 11th-longest ever in the NBA. This season, at 29, he tested and proved his faith yet again when he replaced Scott, averaging 12.7 points and 10.9 rebounds over nine games.
The team's top rebounder in five of the last six seasons, Green has been the leading rebounder in 13 games this season, including seven while playing the off-guard spot. Overall, he is averaging 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds and shooting a career-high 51.7%.
"What he is in terms of his convictions and religious beliefs, he brings to the workplace in terms of working hard and being competitive," Laker Coach Randy Pfund said. "He's the type of player a coach really loves. He's exactly the kind of guy you love to have as a player, a son, a neighbor, the whole package."
Green brings that same conviction to his mission to help youngsters build moral strength in a society he feels fails to teach them that "you need to have some form of self-control and respect for yourself. If you can't respect yourself, you won't know how to respect others."
Through the 3-year-old foundation that bears his name, Green runs a summer camp for children, and hopes to find job internships for youngsters with Los Angeles-area businesses. To warn of the danger of promiscuity, his "Athletes for Abstinence" program made a rap song and a video called, "It Ain't Worth It," which is scheduled for release in a month. Green hopes to distribute it to schools and TV networks such as MTV and BET.
But that's not all. With two business partners, Green plans to open a bottling plant that will provide jobs in areas of the city ravaged by last year's riots. Someday, he would like to establish a home for unwed mothers.
"There has to be more emphasis put on self-control and responsibility," he said. "If there's so much sex education going on in schools, why are teen-age birth rates and abortion rates on the increase?
"I really want kids to think about what they're doing. I don't want them to give in to peer pressure and half-truths.
"I don't want to scare kids. I don't tell them, 'You're going to get a disease if you have sex.' I'm more concerned with what kids have to go through in terms of emotional hurts and scars. . . . They hear those stories about entertainers and athletes (being promiscuous) and they don't know what commitment is. They think you're a piece of property. They lack respect for the human body and for human beings.
"I'm concerned with young people not having a chance to grow up happily. There's enough problems trying to economically survive. You see a lot of single-parent homes, and that's enough of a burden in itself.
"There's just a lot of things that weigh on my heart. Someone has to try and communicate with young people and not be a talking head."
Green long ago communicated his sincerity to his teammates, earning respect even from those who urged him to tone down his sermonizing and others who tried to set him up with dates and bet he would succumb to temptation.
"He brings a lot of qualities to this ballclub, a lot of inspiration and a lot of leadership, being a (lay) minister and having a lot of principles in life in general," James Worthy said. "He applies those to every aspect in his life. People listen to his word and value what he says. His attitude is probably the best and his work ethic is even better. . . .
"I think only people who are ignorant make fun of him. People respect him. It's not easy to walk that road, and a lot of guys who joked about him and gave him a hard time probably wanted to be like him, but couldn't."