“This is my country, and this is my program that I spent 13 years in, and I’d like to be a bigger part of it.”
The declaration by a multimillion-dollar NBA all-star point guard, Steve Nash, sounds sincere and convincing. But as Canada’s men’s team sits on the Olympic sidelines for the third consecutive Summer Games, it’s time to reassess the system that produces would-be Olympians.
“I wanted to consider playing this summer. But the truth is I was rehabbing an injury all summer and couldn’t have played regardless,” Nash said Tuesday as he pressed the buzzer at Toronto’s stock exchange to kick off trading. The spectacle was planned for the launch of a new “functional beverage” called Liquid Nutrition. Advertising says it’s infused with vitamins and supplements, which sounds like everything an Olympics-bound sports team needs – with the exception of providing an actual berth in the Games.
A spot in the 2016 Games at Rio de Janeiro is the best Canada can hope for after missing out this year. The allure of playing for the maple leaf needs to be revitalized, Nash said.
“If I were 110-per-cent healthy and knew [because of the NBA work stoppage]we weren’t going to go back to work until November or December; if they’d called me up and said ‘Here’s what we’re doing,’ I’d love to have played,” he said.
However, the attraction isn’t there for NBA-calibre players who can make millions of dollars as pros instead of risking their health for the national side. Besides, Nash cannot meet qualifying standards on his own, he said.
“My time with the national team is among the best memories and times of my career. It would have been great to play, but being hurt, it wasn’t even a consideration,” the two-time NBA most valuable player said.
Nash wasn’t alone in missing the Olympic qualifying tournament. Several other key Canadian-based NBA players were missing, including rookie Tristan Thompson, veteran Jamaal Magloire, Robert Sacre, Khem Birch and Kyle Wiltjer.
The team also wound up losing coach Leo Rautins, who went out with a bang, saying that playing for Canada didn’t have the cachet it once did.
“We need to unify,” Nash said. “We have so many players not playing, including myself, though I retired [from national duties]about seven years ago. We have a lot of young players, but we have a long history of a fractured scene in Canada Basketball. We’ve got to find a way to unify and feel a sense of pride for this program.
“That’s the first step, get on board with a sense of pride. … Second, we’ve got to develop players; and then we’ve got to build chemistry with the current players.”
At 37, he’s past the point of playing for the Canadian Olympic squad, he figures, but he hasn’t ruled out coaching or managing in the future.
“At some point, I’ll definitely be part of the program,” he said. “I’m not sure what capacity yet and I’m not sure when, but this is my country and this is my program. I spent 13 years as part of it, and I’d like to be a bigger part of it, in a bigger role at some point, when the time is right … not just so that we can make Olympic Games, but so we can get kids playing the sport and learning and growing and participating and improving their lifestyle.”