Unlike Carter, Nash gets it

NBA MVP Steve Nash passes to an awaiting Nike Basketball camp student at the Harbourfront Community...

NBA MVP Steve Nash passes to an awaiting Nike Basketball camp student at the Harbourfront Community Centre July 15th, 2005. (SUN/Dave Abel)

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

You couldn't help thinking of Vince Carter yesterday as you listened to Steve Nash talking about his new charity exhibition game.

It's natural enough.

The league's reigning MVP was in town yesterday to promote a July 29 contest at the Air Canada Centre that will include Allen Iverson, Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Michael Finley as well as Raptors Rafer Alston and Chris Bosh and Morris Peterson.

That charity game was Carter's annual public show of keeping it real.

Now Nash is the guy.

Yesterday brought the requisite photo-op, a mini-clinic for a bunch of youngsters at Bathurst and Queen's Quay, and a good many attentive Nike people on hand to oversee the donation of $100,000 worth of stuff to local kids.

About the time Nash told the players the best part of the game was sharing the ball with teammates and that he often battles fragile confidence, the differences between the new guy and the gone guy began to gnaw at you.

Look, this isn't to pile a few final grains of dirt on Carter, honestly it isn't. It's just that a year ago at his game, Carter kept a pile of media waiting 15 minutes while he finished a game of HORSE, then jacked around his fans by refusing to admit to his trade request.

Carter, a Floridian, never really understood about playing in Canada. The greatest American athlete/statesman was Muhammad Ali. Ours is Wayne Gretzky. Both were great. One even said so.

We usually end our sentences in question marks. Americans just as often use punctuation marks.

Braggadocio sells in the U.S. It grates here and, in that way, Nash was moving into the market with all the local sensibilities.

He was letter perfect yesterday: respectful, compassionate and nuanced.

Nash's story -- picked up the game at age 12, offered a scholarship by only one school, overcoming a lack of height and athletic gifts to become the best player in the NBA -- is written perfectly to Canadian standards.

The guys at Nike thought this one through.

The city, he said, was familiar, since he had been here over a dozen summers with various national team programs.

"It has been 10, 11, 12 summers I've been to Toronto," he said. "I'm very fond of the place and I want to give back to it."

An assist specialist, Nash is the perfect Canadian basketball player. Basketball is a game fuelled by the tension between selfishness and selflessness.

Nash was the league's runaway leader in assists. As soon as he won his MVP award he called everyone, his teammates, his coaches, the Suns' equipment manager, up to the podium to join him. He gets it.

"People have been so encouraged by our style of play and the way we like playing together," said Nash of the Sun's run to the Western Conference Final. "It's such a positive vibe in the community."

This being Canada, there is an element of factionalism between Nash and Jamaal Magloire, a Toronto-born New Orleans Hornets player whose turf Nash was theoretically moving into. Nash said he wanted Magloire in the tent.

"I'm a huge fan of Jamaal and it's his hometown. I really would love for him to be a part of it but whatever Jamaal wants to do, I support it."

Nash, a close friend of deposed national team coach Jay Triano, said he probably won't play for Canada in the next summer Olympics, which is a little un-Canadian until you remember all his years with the national program.

At 31, he has done his share.

Unfailingly polite, as diplomatic as Mike Pearson, Nash nonetheless earned a level of censure by questioning the intentions of the U.S. government leading up to the Iraq war.

It was the only real political time of Nash's career, but he has the typical Canadian's view of the United States: ambivalence.

"They're the world's police and the world leader so it's very easy to find criticism or to be critical of their policies," Nash said. "But at the same time, the United States can't please everyone. They do an awful lot of good for the world and it is an outstanding country. We shouldn't judge them, before we realize that we ourselves aren't perfect either."

That may be the most eloquent summation of the difference between the two countries Steve Nash calls home.

We know we are profoundly imperfect. Steve Nash, closer than many, maybe most, knows that as well.

He is, after all, one of us.


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