If Steve Nash thought winning an NBA title was tough, he is about to embark on a bigger and more daunting journey. Nash was named general manager of Canada Basketball and will now go about trying to make Canada’s senior men’s national team relevant and put the Maple Leaf back on the world basketball stage. Hey, he has done it for Canada before, but this time he will be trying to accomplish the task behind the scenes.
Nash will be assisted by Rowan Barrett, a former teammate, who was named assistant general manager/executive vice-president and will undoubtedly handle much of the workload as Nash plays out the remaining years of his NBA career.
One thing is for sure, the program received a shot in the arm by adding Nash’s name into the mix. Within Canada, enthusiasm will return. Not only will players be excited by invites from a two-time NBA MVP to play for the red and white, but on the off chance some kid wallows, Nash and Barrett will tap the parents on the shoulder and get the answer they desire.
The program has instant credibility on many fronts. People will sit up and take notice not only in Canada but in other places around the world where this hiring says "Canada is getting serious about doing things right."
There are three key elements to build a successful team: skill, will and resources. Canada has never been short on the first two entities but finding adequate resources has always been a challenge. With Nash in the fold, the program has been given instant credibility and in time, hopefully financial resources can be accrued to help the program move forward. In the past, the budget constraints on the program were appalling. Now, with Nash leading the charge, perhaps some of that will change. There are already indications that significant funds have been raised.
However, there are other issues that Canada has always fought in trying to put its best team on the floor and questions that need to be addressed. Has all the talent been identified and given a fair chance at making the team? How can you program kids so that playing for your county is or becomes important for them, the same way it does in places like Spain or Argentina? Can Canada Basketball field a team that is the best possible team yet truly representative of everyone in the country?
In the past, the organization has fought many forms of perceived biases. Why did it seem like all the players were from a certain area of the country? Do all Canadian players see themselves with a legitimate chance at making the team? Let’s face it, and I speak from experience here folks, in the past, the national team was seen as a closed shop. It was not viewed as the best collection of Canadian basketball talent and as those perceptions grew into reality for some, apathy in certain communities kept talented players from wanting to be apart of the team. It just wasn’t important and as the program started to flounder, a vicious cycle was created.
But Steve Nash was part of the initial stages of the change in the mindset of Canadian basketball. Through the success of the 2000 Olympic team in Sydney led by head coach Jay Triano, and the work by Leo Rautins in his tenure as coach, things have started to change. Those factions of the Canadian basketball population that felt disenfranchised are starting to come around and warm to the idea of once again playing for Canada. There is still a long way to go but this is where Nash will be valuable as he will look past all the superfluous distractions and biases to select the best team, period.
"It’s a shame that a program has had disconnects in the past," said Nash when discussing past regional and cultural issues prohibiting Canada from fielding its strongest team. "But what we want to do is make this program everyone’s program."
You can listen to what Nash had to say to Eric Smith and I, shortly after the news conference where the country was told he would take the reins.
Also, there were Raptors employees at the news conference since it took place at the Air Canada Centre and I bet they were thinking quietly, "Boy he looks good up there." It would be interesting to see Nash sign as a free agent and play his final NBA days in Toronto and be a little closer to the entire Canada Basketball situation. It would certainly improve the Raptors and put butts in seats.
I had the privilege to watch Nash play at the World Basketball Championships in Toronto in 1994 and he was every bit the competitor is now. He always possessed grit and an "I’m not giving up" kind of attitude that you need to be successful at anything in life. It will serve him well in his new job. Maybe now those naysayers that questioned his commitment to Canada will back off when they realize the magnitude of the job he will encounter.
Nash’s ideal of having everyone in the country responsible for the development of the game can only come to fruition if he and his staff reach out and engage all Canadians in every community and put the shine back on the game. Can it be done? Nobody knows for sure but if there is one person I would not bet against achieving success, it’s Steve Nash.