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.