|Nash back in Canada, but for one night only|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 27 October 2007 12:19|
Standing at midcourt before he and his teen group began singing ``Oh, Canada!'' the boy turned and pointed.
``Steve Freakin' Nash is here!'' the singer yelled.
The 17,704 people who sold out General Motors Place roared, and the Canucks hockey team was nowhere near the arena.
Yes, Steve Nash was here. Back in his home province, the 6-foot-3 national icon with a wizard's ability to handle a basketball gave out 12 assists for the Phoenix Suns in an exhibition game against the Seattle SuperSonics on Friday night.
The crowd chanted ``We want Nash!'' when he wasn't on the floor. As the fired-up teen and his pals sang the anthem, a 20-something man unfurled a large Canadian flag. ``Steve'' was written in black ink above the red maple leaf. ``Nash'' was scribbled below it.
Here, that's not defacing the flag.
In Phoenix, and to millions of NBA fans across the United States, Nash is a wondrous point guard and two-time league MVP. In Canada, he's also an example of a local kid who beat the odds to become one of the best players in the world.
``I have tremendous respect for what Steve has done for basketball, as do all of us north of the 49th parallel,'' said Wayne Parrish, executive director of Canada Basketball.
Yet Parrish and others want Nash to do more. They want him to play for the national team, for the first time since 2003, next July in a last-chance Olympic qualification tournament.
``It's absolutely essential that Steve be a part of Canada Basketball,'' Parrish said by telephone from Toronto. ``I think everyone in this country would love for Steve to be involved.
``The nature of his involvement is up to Steve, whatever Steve would want to do.''
Nash said winning his first NBA title in Phoenix takes priority. He turns 34 in February and has two years left on his contract that is paying him $11,375,000 this season. The Suns hold a $13 million team option for 2009-10.
``Yeah, I mean, I'd love to play. But is it reasonable?'' Nash said. ``You know, I've played pretty much 100 games for each of the last six years - and the national team before that for 10 years. So it adds up.
``It's a long shot.''
Some Canadians call the current state of national basketball ``the post-Steve Nash era.'' And it's not pretty.
Half of the nation's NBA presence left when the Grizzlies fled Vancouver for Memphis in 2001. The Toronto Raptors remain - and have one division title in 12 seasons of existence.
As for the national team, Parrish's goal of winning a world championship within five years seems unrealistic. Team Canada is 9-20 in the last three years of international play and exhibitions. Last summer, it lost by 50 to the U.S. in the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament.
But because Canada finished fifth in that tournament, it gets one more chance to qualify for the Olympics. And it's best shot would be with Nash.
Yes, he is huge in Canada. In his 12th season with the Suns, Nash is renowned as the best basketball player the country has ever produced.
Then again, that may not be saying much. The national team touts coach Leo Rautins as ``a Canadian basketball icon.'' His NBA career: a whole 32 games with the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks over the 1983-84 and '84-85 seasons.
Nash owns a swanky, earth-friendly health club that bears his name and covers 38,500 square feet of downtown Vancouver, a ferry ride east from Victoria. He took all the Suns there on Friday.
``Got some coaches on some of the apparatus, showing us their fitness levels,'' he said. ``They were considerably poor.''
Time magazine named him one of its 100 most influential people in 2006. His foundation has as its mission statement ``to ensure that children have access to those rights that are due to them - to be healthy, to learn, to live free of abuse, and to play.''
He spends money on philanthropic causes in Paraguay, the native country of his wife Alejandra. In British Columbia, he sponsors the Steve Nash Youth Basketball League that has more than 10,000 players. Across Canada, his name is on a grassroots initiative to further develop the sport with the nation's youth.
That's not easy. As Parrish says, ``the shadow that hockey casts is significant.''
``It's hard when a teenager has, literally, five players from his hometown who are playing in the NHL,'' Parrish said. ``Or in certain neighborhood in Toronto, there are two guys on your street in the NHL.''
Yet according to Parrish, basketball has been the fastest-growing sport over the last decade for the ages of 12-29 in this country of 32 million people.
Nash was ahead of that curve 20 years ago in Victoria.
``When I got to the eighth grade, I was tired of playing hockey and soccer in Vancouver every other weekend when my friends were home playing basketball,'' Nash said. ``I really wanted to be with my friends at first, but I fell in love with the sport, and the challenge.''