Five Olympic questions with Steve Nash

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Steve Nash may be best known as a two-time NBA MVP, but he is also an Olympian and an Olympic cauldron lighter.

For Canada, Nash’s senior international basketball days go back to the 1994 World Championship, where Shaquille O’Neal-led Dream Team II took gold.

Nash, then 20 years old, and the Canadians finished seventh.

In 1995, Nash and Canada lost two winner-goes-to-the-Olympics contests at FIBA Americas, just missing qualifying for the Atlanta 1996 Games.

Nash made it to the Olympics for Sydney 2000, where Canada lost in the quarterfinals to eventual silver medalist France. The other notable player on that Canadian Olympic team was Philadelphia 76ers 7-footer Todd MacCulloch.

How important were the Olympics to Nash? Canada’s National Post relayed this scene from the France game in a March article:

After the game the fans filtered out to the strains of a haunting, plaintive song by Moby called Porcelain, which had been the soundtrack every post-game of the tournament. I packed and made my way downstairs to the mixed zone – the area where athletes and press are allowed to converge. I reached it just in time to see Nash coming down the tunnel with each of his arms around the shoulders of a teammate.

The teammates – I think it was Rowan Barrett and Sherman Hamilton, but here time has, as I mentioned, faded the details – were literally dragging Nash off the floor. They were because Nash was sobbing so heavily — his chest heaving, the tears streaming, his voice choking – he was unable to walk.

Nash never made it back to the Olympics as a player, but he was an integral part of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games as one of four Canadian athletes chosen to light the indoor cauldron at the Opening Ceremony.

The others were hockey player Wayne Gretzky (who lit the outdoor cauldron on his own), Alpine skier Nancy Greene and speed skater Catriona Le May Doan (who was unable to light the cauldron due to a cauldron technical malfunction).

Nash became the second Summer Olympian to light a Winter Olympic cauldron, joining French soccer star Michel Platini.

Nash, who announced his retirement March 21, is now the general manager of Canada’s national men’s basketball team that will try to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2000. Its next (but not final) chance is at FIBA Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, in August and September.

Nash’s duties also include his charity foundation, which operates globally to increase access to critical needs resources for children affected by poverty, illness, abuse or neglect.

Nash was in New York for a foundation event Wednesday, the Steve Nash Foundation Showdown, a soccer game that annually includes soccer stars and Olympians, such as Australian guard Matthew Dellavedova this year.

While in the city, Nash reflected on his Olympic experiences:

OlympicTalk: Which Canadian NBA players have made themselves available for FIBA Americas? (NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins has already done so)

Nash: Nothing’s formal. There’s so many moving parts — owners, teams, each individual’s medical history. [NBA] teams have big investments in them. We feel like everybody wants to play, and we have a good shot for everyone to play. Plan for both, hopefully.

I haven’t spoken to Andrew since his comments were public [about playing for Canada at FIBA Americas]. He’s a huge part of what we’re trying to be, which is an elite basketball country, to go to the Olympics and compete for medals. He’s our most talented player in many respects. We’re going to need him to be great for us to be good.

OlympicTalk: Tell me something about your Sydney 2000 Olympic experience outside of the basketball competition.

Nash: It was the best experience of my life in sports for sure, just being in the [athletes’] village. At the end of the tournament, the [Canadian men’s basketball] team taking some day trips to the city, Sydney Harbour together was unbelievable. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were incredible, to meet other athletes from all over was exhilarating. [Australian basketball player] Andrew Vlahov and I, we snuck onto the bowels of the stadium, took the elevator up, got a bunch of beers and got them back across the track during the entertainment parade. This whole corner of the stadium, all the Aussies went nuts when they saw us go across the track. It would’ve been all on social media today. It was one of the funniest moments of my life, bringing a couple trays of beer back into the infield.

OlympicTalk: What went through your mind at the 2010 Opening Ceremony as you waited and waited for the fourth cauldron leg to emerge during the technical malfunction?

Nash: It was a strange moment. It was super intense and a highlight moment of my life to be there. The whole world watching, and then for it to be this pause and not know what’s going on. It was a moment of like, I wouldn’t say panic, but what’s going on? I had a sense of humor about it. I was swept up in the energy of the moment that it didn’t really bother me too much.The show went on.

OlympicTalk: How much more talented is the current Canadian men’s basketball player pool than your roster from the Sydney 2000 Olympics?

Nash: Obviously guys now have a high level of talent, potentially, on our roster. The challenge for them is to have the intensity and toughness our team had in 2000. We had incredibly unselfish guys, hard-working and dedicated, fighting for each other. We were out for a scrap.

OlympicTalk: When was the last time the thought crossed your mind that you considered trying to play in the 2016 Olympics rather than be the general manager?

Nash: Even nowadays I wish I could. I always get the urge, but the reality is I can’t [Nash, 41, retired after nerve damage to his back kept him from playing the 2014-15 season]. I could do it for one day, but in these tournaments it’s eight games in nine days or nine in 11 days [at 2015 FIBA Americas]. I would be taking a spot from somebody that’s quote-unquote able-bodied.

Steve Nash: Canada has ‘outside shot’ at Olympic basketball medal

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game