Wednesday, June 12, 2019

AC Green: Iron Virgin, Totally "Other"

Although the NBA stands for the National Basketball Association, the players will tell you otherwise. It's Nothing But Airports. Given that 30 teams play in more or less 28 different cities to play a single game, the NBA knows the friendly skies. Furthermore, the season is long—too long. Regular season games begin in mid-October and here we are, mid-June, still watching, talking, eating, drinking and dreaming hoops. (NB: Given that my Golden State Warriors is still battling for the championship title, I'm not complaining). The grind—the constant travel, hotel rooms, press conferences cannot be easy. 
The toll the NBA life to mind, body and soul must be exhausting. The temptations on the road are many. Given their height and physical stature, it's hard to miss a pro basketball player walking into a restaurant, at the bar, in the club, leaving the lobby, etc. They are ever under a watchful eye. The lifestyle that accompanies being a professional athlete is not a normal one. I suppose it need not be, which makes the story of AC Green: The Iron Virgin that much more compelling.

I showed the ESPN 30 for 30 Short to my seniors without much background or context. We had read "Running for God" an article about Eric Liddell and watched a clip from his bio-pic, Chariots of Fire. Discussion of Liddell, a "Muscular Christian" prompts the question: What athletes today remind you of Eric Liddell? Invariably, students will name Tim Tebow or Bethany Hamilton. AC Green might be a worthy response, if it were 1985. However, his story is so countercultural, his conviction so steadfast, that it is worth sharing today.

Fresh from winning the NBA Championship, AC Green was selected in the first round as the 23rd overall pick in the 1985 draft. The 6'9" power forward out of Oregon State came to the Lakers during the Showtime era. The cars were fast, the women were beautiful and the parties were incessant. Green abstained from all of it.

AC Green was forthright about his decision to not have sex with a woman until marriage. He refrained from drinking alcohol and using drugs. His conviction was strong. He prayed openly and often. Undoubtedly, his faith served as the soul force that drove his decisions and commitment to purity.

Could an athlete be that outspoken about their personal convictions today? I hope so. However, I don't know that he or she could. Ron Rolheiser said it well when he wrote
Purity and any type of chaste hesitancy is, in our world, regarded with a disapproval bordering on disdain. Purity is, for the most part, seen as naiveté, as lack of nerve, as lack of drive for life. To believe in purity, especially sexual purity, is tantamount to believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny.
I don't disagree. However, this perception of the world and of people is what makes A.C. Green such a compelling figure. Not many professional athletes are different in this way off the court. On the court however, Green is replete with nerve. His game is anything but naive. He is fierce. His drive for life is strong. So strong, that he played for 1,192 straight games. Hence the moniker, a clever combo: the Iron Virgin.
Thanks to a trend started by Coach Popovich, who led the San Antonio Spurs into 21-straight postseason appearance, today, it is not uncommon for star players to rest and not play regular season games. I don't think AC Green would have any of this. In Iron Virgin he said "my parents went to work every single day. I don't see why I should not."

I was reminded as I read the latest book by Jonathan Doyle that "the term holiness basically means otherness. God is great other. What God values is so different to what we value at times." The Israelites lived according to this principle of God as Holy. The temple was a place that was totally other. They practiced ritual purity as a way to inculcate holiness for the body and ultimately the soul. It's no stretch to think of A.C. Green as "other." 

Are their athletes today that remind you of Eric Liddell? of A.C. Green? Do we need athletes who are the "other?"
James Worthy said "being able to stay strong and not be broken and to still be able to stick to his guns? That is what stands out the most." Kareem Abdul Jabar adds, "Play for 16 straight years and miss less than 5 games? Who is going to do that again? I love these questions. I love the example set by A.C. Green, both on and off the court. It is one of passion, conviction, principle and otherness.

In 2001, AC Green retired as the Iron Man of the NBA. Shortly after, he got married. Check out the certificate of recognition he got from Jerry's totally other too.

Photo Credits
AC Green: Iron Virgin
Laker Girls

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