‘LA Lakers is a first class team’

A legend at work... Green plays with a student during a clinic at the Mary Immaculate School in Bangalore.-

A. C. Green considers himself fortunate to have played in NBA for 15 years. “NBA has taught me plenty of lessons in life,” says the former Los Angeles Lakers star in a chat with G. Viswanath.

Green was a rebound specialist for Los Angeles Lakers for six years in the National Basketball Association (NBA) League. He had played a record 1192 matches on the trot in the League, turning out for Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat.

It still remains a mystery what his initials A. C. stand for. “It’s an acronym for air-conditioning… that’s what AC stands for in India. I am sticking to it, that’s the story,” said the former NBA star without giving the impression of being casual.

Asked how he overcame hiccups in his long career, Green said, “Honestly speaking, whenever there is a challenge (like hiccups) one should never allow himself to be distracted by it and instead focus on the job on hand. One should not allow it to become an excuse, everyone in life has to make adjustments about something and I did that. My elder brother, who was five years older to me, beat it (hiccups) out of me… he just punched me… that’s the story.”

The 6ft-9in. tall Green, who was in India as part of the NBA Cares programme — sponsored by Tata Consultancy Services and HP — that involved conducting short coaching clinics in Mumbai and Bangalore and dedicating a NBA refurbished court at the Nagpada Neighbourhood House (NNH), spoke to Sportstar about his NBA career and what it meant to him.

The excerpts:

Question: There are two major sports in the US — Major League Baseball and NBA League. Why did you opt for NBA? Was it your ultimate dream to play in the League?

Answer: I was very much the non-traditional American kid. I was like a universal and global kid. I never wanted to become a basketball player when I was small. It was not my idea, goal or dream. I and my best friends played volleyball, baseball, football, tennis and swam. It was just that I stayed more with basketball as I got into the middle school and high school. I was more keen on baseball, but the boys in the age group of 13-16 played harder, faster and hit me, and it hurt me. I thought I was almost dying. I then realised that I was not cut out for baseball; baseball was not for me.

Basketball and NBA, oh gosh! The process was like this. This is why the coaches’ clinic is so important here and across India. The coaches here are mostly teachers too. The teachers are so important because they don’t realise to whom they are talking to all the time and don’t know the destiny of the kids.

I was in my sophomore year in high school and I never saw myself playing college basketball, but only high school basketball. My coach at high school told me, ‘A. C., you have the potential for basketball and you might be able to get a scholarship.’ Oh gosh! scholarship, I thought because two of my older brothers and older sister barely got out of high school. So my dream was to get out of high school, but because the coach told me that I had the potential for basketball, and I was dumb enough to believe him that he was telling the truth, so I worked on basketball. The coach helped me, trained me and taught me. He happened to be, for many years, the high school coach at Portland, Oregon. It’s just a remarkable fact about what a coach could do and mould me as a person.

At college there was a great coach called Miller. It was for the first time that anyone from my family went to college, and I was going to graduate. So it was great. The college coach also told me that I had the potential for basketball and soon I was in the All Pac 10 team.

Given the circumstances, getting into Los Angeles Lakers in 1985 must have been a terrific feeling. And very soon you were part of that back-to-back title wins by Lakers in 1987 and 1988?

It was a chilling feeling. That year Lakers won the championship and they were on the VD box. I was in college six months before, and six months down the road I was drafted into Lakers with the same group of guys I had seen on the VD box while having breakfast. It was crazy; I couldn’t believe what was happening. Life was all pretty rough… I was just trying to understand what NBA was all about and I was already part of the Lakers, the best team in the world.

I was grateful because I was playing with guys who cared about basketball and cared for each other. Winning championships so early in one’s career doesn’t happen often. Sometimes the whole career goes without winning any championship. But winning gives one a sense of accomplishment, validation as a player and a great level of respect from fellow players, coaches. Your value increases because you are part of the championship winning team. And if you win two championships, it takes you to the moon.

Eight years with LA Lakers — that’s a long run for any professional sportsperson. What was the brightest part of those years?

When I think of those years, I have to appreciate our coach Pat Riley. He wanted the best from you as a player. At the same time, he demanded that he and his players know each other and their families well. This showed me that basketball was more than just a game. With Pat Riley it was just not about scoring many points and stuffing the other guys. He wanted to know the players’ families and kids so that he could spend time off the court with them. So Lakers set an example and standard. So when the players of the other teams and friends asked me, ‘What was it like at the Lakers?’ I would tell the whole story. And they would say, ‘We don’t do that and we don’t get that.’ LA Lakers was a first class organisation and team. People realise it’s not the same everywhere else. But I have also played for other first class teams that treat their players well and honour them.

A. C. Green... “Winning gives one a sense of accomplishment, validation as a player and a great level of respect from fellow players and coaches.”-Pics: K. Gopinathan

You spent so many years with Lakers, did you consider anyone as your role model?

As I said before, I never told myself that I should play basketball and play in NBA. But I was fortunate to play in NBA for 15 years and I played with and against some of the greatest players.

You played 1192 consecutive games in NBA, which goes to show that you were free from injuries for that long a time...

It was not like that… I had injuries, but I overcame them. One carries on playing. I had injuries on my head and someone bit me; I had other injuries too. But one has to make adjustments.

The three greatest players of your time?

It has to be Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Would you say Barcelona Olympics was the turning point in basketball as professionals, for the first time, were allowed to play in the Games?

The Olympics is the ultimate for any sportsperson and winning the gold medal gave you a sense of having accomplished something for your country. It was the turning point as it helped in the overall development of basketball players.

Is lack of height a disadvantage for the Asian players?

Height is an advantage, but it all depends on how the players, irrespective of their height, play the game and back each other. For me LA Lakers set that example and high standard with the players backing each other. NBA has taught me plenty of lessons in life.

Do you hope to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame?

Yes, if it happens, it would be nice. Awards give a sense of recognition and validation as a player and your contribution to the game of basketball.