TORONTO — Steve Nash thinks this weekend’s NBA all-star game in Toronto will go down as another important milestone as basketball continues to make huge strides in Canada.
Nash, a two-time NBA MVP and the general manager of Canada’s senior men’s team, spoke at length on Thursday about the effect the all-star game will have on Canada and the growth of the sport in the country.
Nash is one of dozens of former and current NBA players in Toronto for one of the league’s premiere events, but as the most successful Canadian to ever lace up basketball shoes he is particularly proud of seeing the league’s mid-season showcase on Canadian soil.
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"I think it's another milestone when the game's growing to a new height and bringing in more fans and more kids interested in playing the game at a younger age and learning the game and the values that come along with the game," said Nash at a charity event at Toronto's Yonge-Dundas Square. "We're seeing the fanbase grow in Canada, the interest in the Raptors and the NBA in general and the sport of basketball grow at an unprecedented rate.
"The game's in a good place in our country and it's a perfect time for us to host the world."
Nash compared this weekend's NBA all-star festivities to other major events in Canadian basketball history, including Toronto Raptors forward Vince Carter dominating the slam dunk competition in 2000, the creation of the Raptors franchise in 1995 and even his own remarkable career that saw him play in eight all-star games.
"What a pivotal moment in the history of the game in our country, to represent Canada with the all-star game is something that I don't know I ever imagined," said Nash. "Not only that, but with so many of our young players becoming NBA players it's rewarding and exciting to watch that sort of matriculation."
There are about a dozen Canadians in the NBA right now, led by Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 draft pick in 2014. Although he's American, reigning league MVP Stephen Curry spent several formative years in Toronto while his father Dell played for the Raptors.
More than anything, the 42-year-old Nash thinks that these moments help impress Canadian youth.
"I think the wish for anything is inspiration," said Nash, who was promoting the Steve Nash Youth Basketball program and its partnership with Tangerine Bank. "Being able to see the best players in the world come to our city, our country and play in the most important game of the year in one respect is just going to inspire kids to get out there and play and try to mimic and enjoy the same passions and privileges as the all-stars that play the game."
Toronto has been transformed into a basketball fan's paradise for the all-star weekend. Signs promoting events with retired players like Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley, a streetcar transformed into a rolling shoe store and NBA-sponsored events dominate the city's downtown core.
Nash says landing the NBA all-star game shows how far basketball has come in Canada.
"Having the NBA all-star game in Canada is something I never really thought would happen if you asked me five, 10 years ago, definitely when I was growing up," said Nash, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, but raised in Victoria. "It's a phenomenal day in the history of our game and a tribute to how much the game has grown in our country."