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Real NBA rebel

Sprewell is back, but A.C. Green perseveres

Issue: "Promise Keepers breakdown," March 21, 1998

Ah, the NBA in 1998. The "B" in its name may stand for basketball or, perhaps more appropriately, brutishness or boorish behavior, but it would hardly seem to stand for benevolence, blessing, or beneficence.

Latrell Sprewell, now scheduled for reinstatement, attacked his coach in a display that looked like an outtake from the Jerry Springer show. Charles Barkley practiced for an Australian dwarf-tossing competition by chucking a fan through a plate-glass window in Orlando. Shaquille O'Neal leveled Utah's Greg Ostertag with a smack worthy of Hollywood Hulk Hogan and World Championship Wrestling. And Chris Webber, in an apparent attempt to get his mug on Fox's Cops, battled the thin blue line in Washington.

Then there's the baddest NBA rebel of 'em all, A.C. Green of the Dallas Mavericks. His actions are truly shocking. On the morning before a game, Mr. Green has been known to ... engage in a Bible study with a couple of his Dallas teammates. Off the court, when other players are eagerly pursuing the sex-and-drugs-and-rock 'n' roll lifestyle that is so readily available to them, Mr. Green is ... establishing a program called Athletes for Abstinence. No, that's not an oxymoron, despite what Wilt Chamberlain or Magic Johnson might have you believe.

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A.C. Green is in his 13th NBA season. He won back-to-back championships with the Los Angeles Lakers' "Showtime" clubs in 1987 and '88, and this season became the NBA's new Iron Man when he set a record for most consecutive games played (907) on Nov. 20, 1997, against Golden State. The last time Mr. Green did not play in a game was on Nov. 18, 1986, back during the days of Ronald Reagan, Ferris Bueller, and Moonlighting-but he is not consumed by the incredible streak. "The record is second nature," he says. "The first thing I've grown accustomed to is when there is a game, I expect to play. That's always been my philosophy and mentality. I want to show up for work and put in my all once I arrive, not just punch a clock."

The consecutive-games-played streak is only the second most amazing thing about Mr. Green, a devout Christian who plans to pursue a career as a minister after he hangs up his Reeboks. Mr. Green, at age 34, also is a virgin and has established the aforementioned Athletes for Abstinence program to counsel young people to avoid sex until marriage and to lead a godly life through Bible study, discipline, and education.

But isn't it tough avoiding the avalanche of temptations available to a rich and famous NBA star?

"Temptations are just a part of life," Mr. Green told WORLD, following a game against the Celtics at the Fleet Center in Boston. "Me, a couple of my teammates, and the Mavericks' trainer were having a Bible study this morning about temptation, and knowing that the opportunity is always there. The Bible says that when Jesus was tempted by the devil, the devil then went away and waited for another opportune time to come back and tempt him again. There's always going to be temptation, and there's always going to be a struggle within us between doing right and wrong. We were studying in Romans 7 and talking about that struggle, that conflict, those two natures, as Paul wrote about. So, it's always there, but having good surroundings, having fellowship with guys on the team or guys that you can talk to on the phone-that always helps."

Those words are a marked contrast to the attitude of Planned Parenthood, which assumes that teenagers must act on every sexual impulse. It is also a contrast to the current presidential drama unfolding in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Green responds slowly to a question on that contrast: "Well," he said, "every decision has a consequence. That's the bottom line. You have to be accountable for your actions, no matter who you are."

That sounds like a novel idea. Maybe a few of our political leaders will imitate A.C. Green-not as Iron Men, able to stay in office year after year, but as upright men.

-Mr. Guschov is a Massachusetts attorney and sportswriter.

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