Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Swish-ful thinking

Could it be?!

Word was, last week, that the Vancouver Canucks owner was jonesing for an NBA franchise. The rumour was that he was interested in purchasing the Indiana Pacers and shipping them north.

Not gonna happen.

Not with the Pacers, anway. They may be bleeding, but how could the NBA justify taking a team out of basketball country? They couldn't. No way.

So Francesco Aquilini, the owner of the Canucks and their home, GM Place, says he's not pursuing an NBA team at this time. But methinks he's interested in a roommate for his hockey squad.

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. The NBA failed Vancouver the last time they were here. Despite what you may have heard, the Grizzlies were supported. Sure, their attendance dropped to just over 13,000 in their last couple of lame-duck seasons. Keep in mind the Grizz had the worst 5-year record of any team in NBA history. The worst. What city's fans keep coming back year after miserable year when their boys aren't the least bit competitive? For the product they put out on the floor, the Grizzlies were more than adequately supported.

If this town had even a middling team, you can bet your bottom dollar (and that's what it's all about) they would be embraced. Sure, the puckheads are threatened. They seem to think being a sports fan is a zero sum game. But there's room enough for all sports at the table.

Back when the Grizz were here, foreign born were a rare sight on an NBA team. I remember one guy got a look in training camp but didn't stick. Since some American players don't like to be outside the comfort of their borders, who needs 'em now? That is, who needs the ones who don't want to be here, because you can replace them with those that do and with foreign born players who would be glad to be in the NBA. But there was too much made of the few who complained about living in Canada. The vast majority of American players here had no problems. They were happy to have a job. A ridiculously high-paying job.

Vancouver also didn't have any all-sports radio stations and all-sports TV was limited to TSN (aka The Hockey Network). These days, there's room for other sports.

The Canadian dollar was commonly referred to as the peso at the time. Now the Canadian economy is weathering the economic storm better than the Americans, and our dollar has improved significantly.

The Pacers are definitely out (I couldn't possibly support TJ Ford anyway), but there are other possibilities. The one I like the most is the Hornets, just for old-time's sake. Back in the 1940s, Vancouver had a professional basketball team in the Pacific Coast Professional Basketball League. Their name? The Hornets.

Kismet, baby!

C'mon, Francesco. Get on it. I'll forgive the NBA for taking away our Grizzlies if they'll steal us a team from some other city.

Today's (Old) Sports Guy offering is an interesting read in retrospect. It was an interview I did with Steve Nash just as he was coming out of college and preparing for the NBA draft. I wrote some nice things about him, but in reality I had no idea he'd turn into the player he did, let alone an NBA MVP two times over and millionaire several times over. I'm sure he didn't, either.

I don't have the exact date, but it would be some time between April and June in 1996.
The Sports Guy

by Guy MacPherson

“it’s been a while since I’ve taken an elbow in the head from you.”

So I nailed him in the head one more time for old times sake. Dropped him. Sure it was future NBA star Steve Nash and we were in the media dining area at GM Place. But I felt I had to remind him of his roots. He should never forget where he came from once he’s making millions in the NBA.

Indeed, it had been a while – about four or five years – since I last saw the wee lad, since I used to school him on a regular basis in pickup hoops in Victoria.

“I’d just like to say on record that that’s not true,” he said immediately following a rare Grizzlie victory. Of course he has to say that. If the NBA scouts found out the truth, I would be the one running around signing autographs here and doing interviews there with every breathing sports reporter.

Nash had been in town all of one day and had already given interviews to virtually every media outlet in the lower mainland.

“I had to do a couple of hours at the CBC and (interviews with) every TV station that’s here,” he says.

One would think it would get tiresome, answering the same questions over and over again, especially for a kid on holidays from the rigors of studying sociology in university. But Steverino is having a grand old time with it. His answers may be stock but like a polished stand-up comedian, it’s all in the delivery.

“That’s part of the business. I always say it’s a relationship of reciprocity,” he says, proving that you can be a student and an athlete in the NCAA. “The media has to do their job and it helps you out as well. Give and take. You answer the same questions over and over. I just try to have fun with it, be myself and just answer the question as candidly as possible every time. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s tiring with all the different requests pulling you in every direction. But for the most part, I just try to have fun with it and enjoy it while it’s here.”

That’s the perfect attitude to take. Too many celebrities-of-the-month feel burdened by their success. And as soon as their luck runs dry, and they’re down on it, they realize how good they had it.

“It’s a really fortunate time,” says Steve. “I’m fortunate to be able to experience all these different things and be in all these different places. I just look at in the perspective that I get to have a lot of fun and be a pretty lucky 22-year-old. I’ve got an opportunity to work hard and maybe be successful.”

Pretty lucky, indeed. It will be a huge lifestyle change for Nash. He’ll be living the good life, able to afford anything he wants, adored by millions. Is he ready for it?

“Yeah, sure,” he says, like I’m from Mars or something. “I’ve waited 22 years for some money so I’m excited.”

What was I thinking? Of course he’s ready. Twenty-two years is a pretty unreasonable length of time to wait for your first million. Most of us don’t have to wait that long.

American universities go until June unlike their more progressive Canadian counterparts who finish in April. Had Steve done the honourable thing and stayed home to star for the UVic Vikings, he would have been finished by now.

“Yeah, but if I stayed in Canada, my career would have been over, too.”

He has a point. Maybe. But if I were in his shoes, I’d be finished either way. What’s the incentive to stydy now that he’s only weeks away from becoming so well-to-do?

“Honestly?” he says. “Because I’ve come so far, I’ve done my senior thesis, kept up with all my studies and I’m just about to graduate. So I really want to get it done.”

Nudge nudge, wink wink.

During spring break, Nash was at home in Victoria visiting family and friends, playing ball every day at his old stomping grounds, UVic’s McKinnon gymnasium. He just spent four years playing against the best college players in the United States, a couple of weeks ago he was in New York City winning the NCAA 3-point contest. In the summer, he’ll be practicing with the pros, and come the fall will be playing with the best players in the world. But he still has time to play a little pick-up with hackers.

“It’s been fun just going up (to Uvic) and messing around. I gotta play ball. I’m a basketball player. If I get hurt, I get hurt, you know? I just gotta play ball. I’m insured, so...”

For me personally it will be a little strange to see someone whose butt I used to kick so often, playing among the elite.

“It is strange,” he says. “But I mean I thought you would have foreseen it when I was killing you when I was 12. But I guess you didn’t notice.”

Now it’s my turn to state something for the record. Steven Nash wasn’t killing me when he was 12. That’s ridiculous. And an outright lie. No 12-year-old can stop me. He was 13 and he knows it.

But I didn’t foresee anything.

“Well, you should have,” he says. And then he gets all humble on me. “It was probably because I was dribbling off my foot, throwing up airballs and getting nailed in the head all the time.”

Hey, if you can’t stand the head wounds, get off the court, little boy. You teach ‘em when they’re young and it makes them better.

Meanwhile, I’ll sharpen my elbows for when we meet again on the courts this summer. He’ll thank me later.


  1. Good interview with Nash, Guy. I never saw him play against you, but I did see him dismember some Oak Bay squads back in the day. Helluva rugby and soccer player too. Always struck me as a decent fellow.

    Reminds me of one of my favourite Nash stories, told by Doug Shaw, Steve Nash's principal when he was at Arbutus Junior High. Apparently in grade 9 Steve was spending more time playing sports than attending to his studies, and his math marks in particular were suffering. So Doug called him into his office to give Steve a little pep talk. I paraphrase, but it went something like this: Steve, I know you like your sports, and that's all well and good, but you need to knuckle down and work at your mathematics, because you won't make a living at playing games, but you could make a very good living if you do well at math.

    So fast forward several years, after Nash has signed his first big contract (I think it was for about 6m/season). Doug Shaw is now principal at Oak Bay. Steve shows up and strolls into Dougs office and says (again I paraphrase): I want to thank you for encouraging me to work hard at my math. Thanks to you, now I can count all the way up to 6 million.

    Doug loves telling this story.

  2. Wow. I like the Dough Shaw story too. Interesting that Nash would do that.

    Guy, what was Nash like in those pick-up games?

  3. I have no idea. He was just another good young kid who was better than me. They were a dime a dozen.

  4. Dime a dozen? I just added up all his NBA contracts, and he's made over 70m (so far).

    I wonder what Gladwell would have to say about the many factors that make Nash an outlier in such company. It wasn't just talent alone.

  5. What I meant was that there were lots of really good young rat ballers up at UVic at the time who could play with the big boys and do well. He didn't stand out to me as anyone more exceptional than the others. He was just one of many who were way better than me. If I thought he was a special talent, I would have paid more attention to him.

    Steve clearly put in his 10,000 hours. His dad was a professional athlete, and Steve inherited a love of sports and probably the belief that he could become a pro athlete, too. He also had to luck out in going to just the right college program to be given an opportunity to excel. And then be drafted by just the right NBA team and play for coaches who liked to do things differently. His notorious poor defence would be enough for some coaches early in his career to have sat him. But Steve played for coaches who favoured an offensive system, which he thrived in. Plus his single-minded pursuit of getting better all the time.

  6. He's pretty smart too. Guy, you've had close encounters with all sortsa athletes. Are they (as a group--I know there are exceptions like Nash) as dumb as they sound, or have they simply knuckled under to their "handlers" and become the well-trained speak but say nothing substantive media whores that their bosses, agents and sponsors demand?

  7. I'm pretty sure that he's an example of hard work paying off. I mean he was clearly one of the best athletes his age in town, but he made it pay off. Geoff Courtnall did the same.

  8. Yeah, but LOTSA guys work hard. He is also analytical, intelligent, looking for ways to be a better player. I suspect the fact that he played many different sports, and didn't zero in on basketball as his only sport until relatively late in life paid off as well. He sees the court the way a midfielder sees the soccer pitch--the way Gretzky used to see things on the ice.

  9. and Nick Grant on the football field.

  10. Ha! I hope Nick reads this. I'm sure it'll do much to prop up his sagging ego to see himself compared to Gretzky and Nash.

  11. Okay, you two longtime basketball fans, lemme ask you, if you were starting a team up from scratch and both Kobe and Lebron were 18 years old, who would you draft and why?

  12. Guess I've killed the thread by axing the question.

    I dunno what the stat heads have to say about which is the more valuable player, but I'd take Lebron simply cuz he's more fun to watch.

  13. I'd take Kobe because he has less tattoos.

  14. Actually, he has FEWER tattoos, though they are prolly lesser as well.