1-on-1 with Steve Nash: On storytelling, NBA media, Raptors and more

Steve Nash spoke to Sportsnet about the 2017 NBA playoffs and more.

There are five Canadians competing in the NBA playoffs and Steve Nash has his eye on the action. But the GM of Canada Basketball is also currently helping Canadians follow the story of five other players in conjunction with the 125th anniversary of the invention of the game by Canadian James Naismith.

The two-time MVP is behind the new series “Dr. James Naismith: The Reinvention of Basketball.” The intended goal being to embody virtues Naismith valued including commitment, dedication, innovation and inspiration, and reflect the growth of the global game.

Nash’s production company, Meathawk, produced the series featuring the Memphis Grizzlies’ Vince Carter (innovation), Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (legacy), Toronto RaptorsKyle Lowry (toughness), Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki (evolution) and the Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic (opportunity).

In between consuming and creating basketball content this spring, Nash explained the process of interviewing current players, the changing landscape for media covering the NBA and his perspective on the postseason paths for the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors.

This time of year it is easy for Canada’s love for hockey to overshadow basketball. Were you cognizant of trying to celebrate the Canadian history in the game of basketball through the series?
I think it was part of the genesis of the series from the NBA’s perspective. They felt the Naismith anniversary, the games' growth in Canada, those are two things that were seeds for the series. I think the series works globally, but it’s also under the context of Naismith being Canadian and the way the game has evolved in Canada. It does have a special ring to it for Canadian viewers in that context.

Why did you decide to tell the story of the game through the distinct narratives of these specific current players?
I just thought it was an interesting way to learn about the impact these players have had on the game. There is a different way to dive in and teach them more about each individual player and their career arch.

As a content producer I was jealous and amazed how expressive and candid the subjects were on camera. These are all guys you have personal ties to. Did you learn anything new about them?
Maybe just sharpening what I already knew. You kind of know so much about everybody nowadays— there is just so much information available to us.

At the end of the day players get interviewed so much all the time so you want to try and start a conversation with them that is not just a standard interview. It gets them speaking about things in a way that is perhaps more open and comfortable than they would feel in their allotted media time. So, I think that was what was profound about it is you got each guy excited about an angle and story arch in their career and they were able to talk about it in a way that is more engaging. You got a little deeper appreciation for the things you already know and a profound look at their development and their success over the years.

Was there a specific player or story you related to?
In a way, I relate to all of them and I don’t know where the boundary of it being their story, or if their story being mine, or knowing them and having an appreciation for what they do...That boundary is even more clouded for me because I've met them, played against them, rooted for them, appreciated them. The biggest thing I took away from it is, like you said, seeing their eyes get wide and bright and their personalities perk up and their engagement grow. You realize the passion these guys have for the game and the pride they have to be able to do it and compete every day against the best in the world. That really struck me. These guys are great basketball players but there is no way around the fact they have a tremendous passion for what they do and the purpose that it gives them in their lives.

You’ve started a trend of athletes being content makers in their post-career. Derek Jeter, Baron Davis and now Kobe Bryant have all followed the same path. What is it about being an athlete that pushes you to that field?
Maybe a part of it is we’ve been interviewed so many times so you are a part of some form of storytelling endlessly, from the beginning of your career to the end. So by osmosis you gain an affinity for wanting to tell stories and connect with people and create messages for people that can be inspiring or educational. For me in particular I just like storytelling. I like to be sat on a couch or a barstool and listen to someone tell a great story. Or vice versa tell somebody a great story or experience that I had. One of the joys of life is sharing experiences with each other and this is a way to do it at a more formal level.

I hate scrums. I think they are archaic and don’t foster anything useful. Since, you’ve been on both sides of the camera do you have an opinion on how we can tell these stories in a more efficient and compelling manner?
It does at times became a bit monotone and I was the biggest culprit throughout my career. My interviews could become so monotone because I answered the same three questions every day for decades.

Unfortunately, there are so many outlets nowadays so there is no efficient way to do it. If I were to change anything I’d almost look at doing it in reverse and instead of being the daily occurrence, making a scrum a once-in-a-blue-moon thing. I know the model doesn’t support that way because you want to give everybody an opportunity to promote our game and our players and their personalities.

At some point, I think the model is working and that’s why we keep doing it but is there a better way and is there a way to be more strategic? There probably is. But why would you fix something that is working financially? If you were more strategic and almost limit players access I think that would create some great things like players taking more of their own approach to connect with their fans and it would become more personal and authentic.

The reality is the model works so I don’t think anything is going to change too much except the natural evolution of social media.

You’re a consultant with the Golden State Warriors and you’re a proud Canadian. What has been your perspective of the teams on both coasts that you pull for?
I think Golden State is in such an interesting position because even if they win, they were supposed to. If they lose, they're a disaster. In some ways, it has provided them with an opportunity to evolve into a team that is playing to appreciate the game, to appreciate the culture that they have within their team and try to push each other to be more connected and play at a high level. I think it’s interesting that the team has taken pride in trying to play the right way and be connected and not be solely focused on championships, but be focused on the day to day joys of playing the game and make sure they are playing it the right way.

As far as the Raptors, Toronto in the playoffs is one of the most electric markets. The way Raptors fans have gotten behind their team and the excitement that the playoffs have brought to the whole country— and the whole NBA— has been fantastic. It has been a little bit of an up and down year with some of their injuries and stretches where they weren’t as good as we know they can be, but we have an opportunity now to steady the ship and get better each round if they can find a way to get past Milwaukee.

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Originally aired April 19 2017