Canadian basketball hit its high-water mark around sunrise on Sept. 25, 2000.
At that moment, our men's Olympic team was in the process of beating the defending world champions, Yugoslavia, at the Sydney Olympics.
Steve Nash, the alpha and omega of Canadian hoops, was in the middle of it. He was a few years into what was, at that point, an unremarkable NBA career. We already knew him, but we really fell for him that first week in Australia.
It finished 83-75. Nash – all 6-foot-nothing of him – led the game in points, assists, free throws, three-pointers, minutes played and rebounds. He probably folded all the towels and worked a concession stand. The box score is sketchy.
"We've always been proud to be Canadian, but now we can be proud to be Canadian basketball players," Nash declared afterward, possibly while waving a sword.
When Canadians who aren't hockey players say this sort of thing, they should make sure to be standing on a trap door as they do so. It simplifies what comes next.
Canada hit the Olympic medal rounds tumescent with self-belief and were predictably punctured by a middling French team.
Multigenerational Olympic highlight over. Yay.
In the decade that followed, there was no good basketball news in Canada. The Vancouver Grizzlies moved. Vince Carter left. The Raptors got boring, a little less boring and then terrible. The national team went back to seabed-dredging performance norms. Save a brief flare from Jamaal Magloire, not a single player of consequence came out of this country.
All we had was Nash, and the foolish hope that simply by good example, he might grow something in this country.
Somehow, he did. His MVP-level performances in the second-half of the decade were able to push the Canadian game through its four-minute-mile barrier. Once he became, at 30 years old, the best player in the world, it felt like anything was possible.
It has taken a while and the tail on the Nash phenomenon is long, but things have never looked as promising as they do right now. The feeling is so different, there is no historic point of comparison. We're on the cusp of something.
As Canadians, it's hard not to feel like it's a cliff's edge – that's our default. But we could be about to enjoy a long moment of significant glory for this country.
That gives this coming week an inescapable symmetry.
After announcing he will miss the entire NBA season with nerve damage in his back, Nash's professional career is over. He's 40 years old. He can't get fit. The Los Angeles Lakers are going to end up having paid him nearly half-a-million dollars a game over three years. You don't get forgiven for that sort of thing.
While he considers the end, the legacy he inspired is beginning to bloom.
Nash's obvious heir is Andrew Wiggins, whose NBA career begins Wednesday in Memphis.
Wiggins is where he is, in part, because Nash opened America up to the idea that they were ignoring a northern seedbed of unharvested talent.
Beyond that, there weren't many parallels. Nash had to build himself into a baller; Wiggins came pre-fab. Nash wasn't a natural athlete; Wiggins might be the most physically gifted specimen in the NBA. Nash is from somewhere that's not Toronto; Wiggins, correctly, is from Toronto. Nobody believed in Nash, but everybody wanted to see the best in Wiggins. Until they didn't.
The No. 1 pick has been kicked about for months now, most ruthlessly by the Cleveland Cavaliers team that took him first. In the space of a year, he went from 'can't miss' to one of those 'question-marks-abound' types of players. Who gets submarined in the press and then traded as a first-overall? Canada, that's who.
The knock on him is that he drifts.
When you watch him for a while, you can see why they'd say that. He does fade in and out of games. So do most 19 year olds. Wiggins can't be judged for at least two years. Until then, let's resist our national impulse to destroy the things we love.
Beyond Wiggins, there are plenty of other guys coming up – his Minnesota teammate, Anthony Bennett; Boston's Kelly Olynyk; Sacramento's Nik Stauskas; Phoenix's Tyler Ennis. By Rio 2016, it's likely that every man on the Canadian roster will play in the NBA. Only two guys on that 2000 team did.
The recent world championships turned out in the best possible way for us – the U.S. won. That means Canada is spared having to go through the U.S. or hosts Brazil to qualify for the next Olympics. It's a slog, but it's doable.
That's the future – Wiggins, the kids coming up around him, the Canadian Olympic team. It's Nash's next task as general manager of Canada's senior men's team.
He's done yeoman's work on that front as well – showing young players that not only can you play internationally as well as in the NBA, but that one can feed off the other.
It's among his many instances of patriotic charity. The greatest of them will never get nearly the attention it deserves.
Two years ago, Nash was offered the chance to come to the Toronto Raptors. He considered it, though 'seriously' is too strong a descriptor. Predictably, the Raptors went too far in the pursuit, ham-stringing themselves with a broken-down Landry Fields as an enticement. Nash still passed. Who can blame him? That team wasn't quite a train-wreck, but it had a couple of steel wheels hanging in the air.
Imagine how that would've worked out – Nash hobbling around for two or three years, Kyle Lowry seething as his back-up, Andrea Bargnani asked to think as well as walk, DeMar DeRozan allowed to hide in the second-tier weeds, everyone else tugging a forelock every time Captain Canada wandered by. It would've been a goddamned disaster, even if Nash hadn't been hurt.
His last significant act as a pro was putting Canada's only team on an alternate, winning path. That he didn't know he was doing it doesn't make it any less important. Nash set the stage for their emergence.
As a result, the Raptors are in the best position they've ever enjoyed, which is not to say they are the best they've ever been. The former is more important than the latter.
They're going to finish somewhere between third and sixth in the Eastern Conference. I'll guess third.
They kept their core together and added the two weapons needed in the off-season, a hammer (James Johnson) and an ice pick (Lou Williams). This is a team designed to win now. They can – scratch that, must – take one playoff series. Two is very possible. If they can manage it, they're in for a long string of success.
It's only been a few months, but the Raptors have unlocked a time capsule buried by Nash in the mid-aughties – Canadian basketball pride.
Even more than the team's success, the 'We The North' campaign is evidence of that. It has tapped into a feeling no one realized existed. If they can continue to ride this wave, the entire country is open to them. They can be what Leafs used to be and what the Jays were for a few short years.
All they need to do is grab hold of their place as Canada's basketball present. Just one playoff series – that's all it takes to keep this shuffling forward.
After that, who knows what's possible? Just ask Steve Nash.