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At 35 years old, Steve Nash has found the fountain of youth, at least by professional basketball standards.

A mid-career dedication to fitness and a better diet has made the Phoenix Suns star healthier and stronger than he was when he broke into the National Basketball Association 14 years ago.

Now, his business partners hope that association will translate into marketing power - and profit - in what is believed to be Canada's first celebrity-branded national fitness chain.

In a deal announced Monday, a company backed by Mr. Nash acquired British Columbia's largest fitness company, Fitness World. The new chain will be Steve Nash Fitness World. Mr. Nash already has two Vancouver-area fitness clubs, with a third to open in White Rock, B.C., under the Steve Nash Sports Club banner.

"I think there's an inspiration around Steve as an athlete and his connection to the community here," said Mark Mastrov, co-owner of New Evolution Fitness Company, a private equity firm specializing in the fitness industry and one of three partners in the deal, along with Mr. Nash and Angelo Gordon and Co., also a private equity firm.

"We like the fact that [his name]cuts through the clutter … He's a giving person and at the same time he's known as a very fit person, so it allows us to inspire people to exercise."

The move Monday means Mr. Nash's name will soon be on 16 locations across his home province. But the plan is to use Mr. Nash's status as a Canadian sports hero to help the chain expand nationally, said Mr. Mastrov, a fitness industry heavyweight who borrowed $15,000 (U.S.) from his grandmother in 1983 to buy a stake in a single health club in California, and built it into a chain that was eventually sold for $1.6-billion.

Terms of the deal were not released, but Mr. Mastrov said that Mr. Nash was an equity partner in the arrangement and the new chain of clubs should generate revenue of more than $50-million (Canadian) annually from 100,000 members.

"We're a very profitable company with lots of aspiration to grow," Mr. Mastrov said. Their first location outside B.C. will be in Toronto. The group has a lease signed with an announcement expected by year end, Mr. Mastrov said.

The largest existing fitness chain in Canada is London, Ont.-based Good-Life Fitness Centres Inc. which has 200 locations and has plans to expand to 300 in the next two years.

New Evolution struck a partnership with the Ultimate Fighting Championships this year to open a chain of branded health clubs that will feature signature gyms in various UFC stars' home markets, including one for Montreal native and UFC star Georges St. Pierre. They also completed a $40-million (U.S.) acquisition of Crunch, a boutique brand in bankruptcy protection.

The partnership between Mr. Mastrov and Mr. Nash was a natural one. Mr. Mastrov was a point guard who played college basketball; he watched Mr. Nash when the latter starred at Santa Clara University before heading to the NBA. He also knew Mr. Nash's long-time agent, Bill Duffy.

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