TORONTO — Former NBA MVP Steve Nash made a habit of putting his hand up for national team duty. But he understands times have changed.
Many of Canada’s top players have begged off the upcoming FIBA World Cup for a variety of reasons.
"It’s disappointing but you also have an understanding that the times are also different," said Nash, a former GM of the Canadian men’s team.
"We had much less options when I was coming up. Playing for your country, I think, in some ways meant more because there wasn’t as many opportunities for you.
"The business of basketball has just gotten so big. And the money that players are making and the values of their franchises is so huge. And the opportunities they have have evolved so much that it’s not quite as simple as it was back in the day. And I do think that the times have changed. I think you’re seeing it with the U.S. players as well.
"So I think it’s a bit of a global issue in a sense. It just doesn’t carry quite the same weight that it used to. That’s a part of the challenge, it’s part of the reason I came back and worked with the national team, when I was still playing actually, to try to elevate the program to a place where players were excited to play.
"And I think over the last eight, nine years we’ve had a lot of the NBA players come out. This year’s been a little bit disappointing because it’s a World Cup year. But we still have plenty of them that are in the running to play this year and hopefully this is a unique year of guys dropping out for various reasons rather than the norm."
The 45-year-old Nash now describes himself as a "distant adviser" to the Canadian team.
"I spent five years helping run the program. Now I have five kids. I couldn’t donate any more time with the schedule being so busy," he said with a smile Wednesday.
"But what a thrill it is to see basketball grow with our young players here. I think we’re going to start the NBA season with 17 guaranteed contracts for Canadians. Just remarkable growth of the game.
"I’m here as always to help the national team program. Although I’m not here physically, I’m here in spirit and available for anything they may need."
Those not going taking part in the current Canadian camp include Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins, Denver’s Jamal Murray, New York’s R.J. Barrett, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson, Dallas’ Dwight Powell, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and New Orleans’ Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
The salaries of those seven total in excess of US$75 million next season.
Miami Heat centre Kelly Olynyk and Sacramento guard Cory Joseph headline a 19-player roster that includes NBAers Khem Birch (Orlando Magic) and Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett (Toronto Raptors). Canada’s original camp list included 29 players.
The Canadian men, who last featured at the Olympics in 2000, can clinch a berth in the 2020 Tokyo Games with a top-seven finish at the World Cup. Failing that, there is a last-chance tournament next summer.
Canada, ranked 23rd in the World, is in Group H at the World Cup alongside No. 6 Lithuania, No. 11 Australia and No. 37 Senegal. The Canadians open Sept. 1 against the Australians.
Nash, who is from Victoria and now makes his home in the Los Angeles area, was in town to promote DAZN’s soccer and NFL coverage.
By: Neil Davidson