His forged his reputation on becoming Canada’s finest basketball player.
Now Steve Nash is to embark on perhaps a more difficult journey of helping to transform Canada into a world basketball power.
The 38-year-old Victoria native, who just wrapped up his 16th NBA season with the Phoenix Suns, has been chosen the general manager of Canada’s senior men’s basketball team.
The announcement was made Tuesday morning by the game’s national governing body, Canada Basketball, during a news conference at the Air Canada Centre.
“I feel that now is the time to capitalize,” said Nash, looking very corporate in a sharp grey suit.
It is an image that both Nash and Canada Basketball hope to capitalize on as the organization has embarked on major fund-raising campaign to help raise the game’s profile.
Canada Basketball is hoping that with the country’s leading basketball ambassador now in its corner in an official capacity, those efforts will become infinitely easier.
This season there were 21 Canadians playing in the NBA, the highest component of international players.
Those numbers included Tristan Thompson of Brampton, Ont., the fourth player selected in the 2011 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the highest spot a Canadian has yet been drafted; and Cory Joseph of Pickering, Ont., who was picked 29th overall by the San Antonio Spurs.
It marked the first time two Canadians were selected in the first round.
Despite a growing number of players at both the NCAA and NBA level over the years, Canada’s men’s national team has continued to struggle at the international level.
The men’s team last made the Olympics in 2000 in Sydney when Nash was the captain and became a household name as he almost led Canada into medal contention.
Canada failed to earn a berth into this summer’s Olympics in London.
Nash’s job will be to help harness the wealth of emerging Canadian talent and select the team that will try to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I think we’ve got a chance to ignite the next generation,” Nash said. “Now we start to change the perception, the level, the success and the standard and turn it into a program that demands excellence in a country that is a basketball country in its own right.”
For the time being, Nash will be working at the role part time as he is planning to continue his NBA career.
The two-time NBA most valuable player is heading into free agency after finishing the season with the Suns.
With his new position at Canada Basketball Nash was asked if it made sense for him to consider joining the Toronto Raptors, Canada’s only NBA franchise, next season.
“I haven’t had a time to start thinking about free agency but obviously the next six to eight weeks is going to be an important time for me,” Nash said. “I’m not going to close any options or opportunities. We’ll evaluate very strongly every single opportunity that I have to continue to play the game and we’ll see.
“At this time I’m not ready to make any proclamations.”
To assist Nash, Canada Basketball has promoted former national team member Rowan Barrett to the position of assistant GM, executive vice-president of the senior men’s program.
“Steve’s passion, drive, thoughtfulness and profound basketball IQ give us an absolutely incredible opportunity to leverage the wealth of emerging talent to get back to the Olympics and make some real noise once we do,” said Wayne Parrish, president and chief executive officer of Canada Basketball.
Parrish said Nash’s involvement has already opened some doors as the organization has identified as many as 30 individuals who have agreed to raise around $2-million in funding.
Parrish refers to the group of private supports as the 6th Man Club.
“It’s been a struggle for Canada Basketball over the years because of finances,” said Nash, adding that a lack of funds has prevented some of the better Canadian players from committing to the program.
“Its just anecdotal but I remember flying, going down to South America, and you fly from Toronto to Montreal to New York to Dallas to South America.
“Those are types of things that hopefully we can improve.”