TORONTO - A casual observer might have thought there was a gas leak at the Air Canada Centre on Monday the way Canada Basketball officials wandered about the place with unworldly smiles on their faces.
But why shouldn’t CB President Wayne Parrish and his colleagues be giddy with excitement?
Canada Basketball hit the jackpot.
Short of winning a medal at an Olympic Games, the announcement that Steve Nash — the greatest basketball player this country has ever produced — has been named the new GM of the senior men’s national team is the absolute best of news for the program.
One pretty boy with a microphone compared Monday’s announcement to Wayne Gretzky and Steve Yzerman being named Executive Director of the Canadian men’s hockey team in years past.
A nice sound bite, but the reality is, Nash’s appointment is much bigger than Gretzky and Yzerman leading the hockey teams. The hockey team is always going to be gold-medal worthy.
The hockey team is always going to have tons money and resources to do what they have to do to prepare for a Games — no matter who is in charge.
The men’s basketball team is a totally different story.
Nash’s inclusion is huge from two perspectives.
One, though CB has put together a group called The 6th Man to help raise much-needed funds for the team, Nash’s presence makes it that much easier to raise money as the team looks towards the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
One of the biggest problems over the years with Canadian teams was finding enough money as they prepare for major tournaments.
Most times, there wasn’t enough, and that showed on the floor.
Canada has not qualified for an Olympics since 2000.
Though Parrish stressed on Monday that Nash’s primary duties will be as GM, i.e. personnel — he acknowledged that, from a marketing point of view, having the Phoenix Suns star on board is a major bonus.
“It’s amazing how powerful Steve getting on a conference call and articulating a different form of vision (to perspective sponsors), how galvanizing that is for these individuals,” said Parrish.
In other words, they hear Nash’s voice, they pull out their cheque books.
Parrish said the Canadian team has operated on a budget of $400,000 to $500,000 annually while most nations in the world top 10 enjoy annual budgets of between $1 million to $2.5 million, with the very top ranging from $3 million to $5 million.
“It’s difficult to run a competitive senior program globally today, especially in a world championship or Olympic year, at that level,” said Parrish.
And that hasn’t made for a great atmosphere on teams.
“If you look back to Steve’s (national team) career and the guys Steve played with, they will tell you all kinds of stories that kind of make you a little bit embarrassed,” said Parrish.
Nash certainly has some memories of playing on Canada’s team when, financially, things were a little iffy.
“You’re going down to South America and you fly from Toronto to Montreal to New York to Dallas to South America,” said Nash.
“Those are the types of things hopefully we can improve.”
The other bonus of having Nash at the helm is from a recruitment standpoint. The men’s side has had a difficult time convincing the best Canadian players to play.
But with Nash in control and the team’s budget on the upswing, the new GM believes he can convince Canada’s best players — including talented young bucks like Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo and Kevin Pangos — to play year after year.
“We want to play at the Olympics perennially,” said Nash. “We want to be in the hunt for medals.”
Nash called playing for the national team the greatest experience of his career.
That being said, there is some irony there.
Nash will be asking Canada’s best players, including those already in the NBA, to give up their summers and play for the national team, despite the fact that, since 2004, he turned his back on the program as a player.
His reasons were many and largely understandable — the primary reason his commitment to his NBA career and the fact that he’s getting up in years and has experienced some injuries (though there was talk that he quit in 2004 because his pal, Jay Triano, was fired as head coach).
But what’s going to stop a Tristan Thompson or a Myck Kabongo from dragging out that same excuse — that they have to concentrate on their pro career — in order to get out of playing for Canada?
But Nash sees it this way.
If the money is there and the program is right, the players will realize that playing for Canada will actually benefit their pro careers.
“I think if we’re open, transparent and looking to work with their clubs, and in particular for that player to play at the highest level he can possibly play at, then I think everybody wins,” said Nash.