Unsure when he might get back on the hardwood, NBA star Steve Nash took to the grass Tuesday to practise with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
With the NBA and its players locked in a labour dispute, the hour of Major League Soccer training at Swangard Stadium was a chance for Nash to work on his conditioning.
It also gave the Phoenix Suns' point guard, a part owner of the Whitecaps, an opportunity to meet and talk with the players.
“It was a lot of fun,” Nash said afterwards. “For me it's a great opportunity not just to get a kick-around with the guys, but to get to know them a little bit.
“As a fan it's fun to meet them and know them. As an owner it's fun to get the temperature of the club and how the guys' spirits are.”
Nash shrugged when asked if he thought the NBA would be playing again before Christmas.
“No idea,” he said, sweat streaming down his face. “I could see it going either way.
“It looks right now like we probably won't start on time. Hopefully, as we start to get into the time of year where everyone is missing basketball, we can start to concede on some points that each other are looking for and find a middle ground. That would be the best of both worlds.”
The NBA locked out its players July 1. Training camps would normally begin in less than a month and the season is scheduled to open Nov. 1.
There are reports the two sides will resume talks this week in New York.
“We all want to play,” said Nash, a two-time NBA most valuable player. “We have to negotiate until everyone is happy with a resolution.
“It hasn't been positive so far. Hopefully in time we can come to some middle ground and move forward.”
Like everyone else involved with the Whitecaps, Nash is disappointed with the team's record as the club struggles through its first MLS season.
Vancouver is last in the league with a 4-13-9 record. The Whitecaps will have a chance to win their first road game of the year when they play the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.
“I think if you look at it, it's always going to be difficult in an expansion year,” said Nash, who played soccer growing up in Victoria.
“I thought the guys played really well many nights this year and just couldn't get wins or draws. Overall, it's been a difficult year because we lost some of those close ones. Then it kind of avalanches and gets on top of you.”
Nash was pleased with the tempo of the practise and the enthusiasm the players showed.
“The spirit is really good,” he said. “That's all you can ask for.
“You want guys to come out and fight every day and train with some passion and inspiration. They are doing that. We want to win right now but you have to look at building day by day, trying to get a little bit better.”
Nash said the Whitecaps have many positives to build on for next season. The team has the third highest attendance in MLS and will move to the newly renovated BC Place Stadium Oct. 2.
“Everyone should be really proud of the effort,” he said. “We are fighting from a bit of a deficit as far as our spirit and mentality, but it's coming.”
Nash showed up for the practice by himself without any sort of entourage. He chatted with team officials while sitting on the ground, lacing up his boots, then shook hands with some of the players.
On the pitch Nash wore a team jersey with No. 13. He participated in all the warm-up drills. During a lively scrimmage Nash showed some dribbling and passing skills.
Jay DeMerit, the Whitecaps captain, said the 37-year-old didn't look out of place.
“He was good,” said DeMerit. “To not play for a long time, and step in with this group of guys, shows the type of quality he has.”
Nash has played 15 years in the NBA but is still searching for a championship. The Suns have missed the playoffs two of the last three years, but he believes Phoenix can still win a title.
“We can get back,” said Nash. “Obviously we need to improve our roster a little bit. As it stands now we are probably a player or two short.”
Besides Nash, the other Whitecap owners are Greg Kerfoot, a reclusive Vancouver millionaire; Jeff Mallett, the former Yahoo president who is a part-owner of the San Francisco Giants; and businessman Steve Luczo, who is part of the group that owns the NBA's Boston Celtics.