ESPN 30 for 30 (with respect, instead of a smirk) takes on faith, virginity and the NBA

Yes, the YouTube photo at the top of this post is not normal GetReligion territory.

However, over the years we have taken more than our share of shots at branches of ESPN for covering stories about religious believers while paying little or no attention to the role that faith has played in their lives and stories. Silence or vague language has usually been the ESPN norm. However, on rare occasions, there has even been a dose of smirk -- or at the least, a digital rolling of the eyes -- added to some stories about faith-driven athletes.

So let's give credit where credit is due. Anyone who appreciates the world of news documentaries knows that the ESPN 30 for 30 team has been at the top of the pyramid for quite some time now when it comes to excellence.

Forget sports, for a minute. I'm talking about quality documentaries -- period. We are talking about films that take on complex, newsworthy subjects that, oh yeah, are linked to sports. I would put the classic "Roll Tide, War Eagle" in the same class with any film that I have seen on issues of race, class, tribal loyalties and the dark side of the human heart.

So this brings me to a recent 30 for 30 short entitled, "A.C. Green: Iron Virgin." That's the YouTube at the top of this post, but click here to go to the ESPN page dedicated to this film. You will want to check out the short commentary by director Isaac Feder, as well.

ESPN has not posted a major story, or transcript, linked to this project. Thus, it is rather hard to walk GetReligion readers through the specifics of what works in this short. Here is the online summary:

He played in a record 1,192 consecutive NBA games. As a power forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, he won three NBA championships. But what made A.C. Green truly distinctive was the courage of his convictions. As this ESPN 30 for 30 Short points out, Green was a devout Christian who maintained his virginity throughout his 16 years in the NBA, nine of them spent in the tempting, hedonistic atmosphere of Los Angeles. That didn't stop him from being a fierce, passionate competitor on the court. It just meant that he was someone who, as teammate James Worthy says, "could stay strong and not be broken." It was only after he retired after the 2000-01 season that Green got married.

In all, Green played in 1192 straight NBA games -- a feat the NBA all but ignored.

One of the more memorable scenes in "Iron Virgin" is Green taking an elbow to the mouth and then need to retrieve one of his teeth from the court surface. He kept playing.

And, oh yes, Green was in the locker room of the Showtime Lakers during the same era that led -- in one way or another -- to one of the most poignant and important human stories of that era, which would be Magic Johnson having to walk away at the height of his hoops power due to AIDS.

One of the only weaknesses in this documentary is the absence of Johnson's voice. One man (backed by the great David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs and others) was a voice for sexual abstinence before marriage. Magic made it clear in many of his statements that abstinence was a courageous choice, but not one that he was strong enough to make. So he promoted safe sex and abstinence, in a tense standoff.

The strongest point of "Iron Virgin"? That would be the foundation of interviews with Green's teammates who express a wry sense of amazement at his beliefs, while also showing tremendous love and respect for Green, the player and the man.

So watch the documentary and see what you think. And can you believe that there is only one comment attached to this film at the ESPN site? 

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