Were it not for the sea-colored interior and the crisp Canadian air outside, it would be easy to think for a moment that one would have stepped inside the US Airways Center rather than Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Wednesday night. The usual throngs of hockey fans were replaced with a sea of purple and orange, local fans exhilarated at the chance to see the Phoenix Suns and BC’s golden boy, Steve Nash, tearing up the hardwood on northern turf.
The vibe inside was no different than any other game in Phoenix might have been. Alvin Gentry stood a stern watch from the sidelines, the Suns Dancers jumped and cheered to enthuse the crowd and even the beloved Gorilla was on hand with mischievous tricks up his furry sleeve. No doubt the competition level was expected to be high: this game was the first face-off between the Suns and Raptors since swapping Leandro Barbosa for Hedo Turkoglu during the offseason. It was anyone’s game, but the question came down to whether Vancouver fans would be cheering for Nash and his team from the Valley of the Sun, or the Canadian boys in red from out east.
A quick scan of the stands revealed countless #13 jerseys with beaming faces to match. It wasn’t difficult to tell who Vancouver’s NBA fans came out to support. No fans, however, were more visible than the handful of BC kids from The Steve Nash Foundation’s Youth Basketball League. Launched with the vision to help youth develop fundamental skills on the court while encouraging a love of the game, the Foundation’s basketball league has expanded into over 50 communities in British Columbia and now has national reach across Canada.
I had a chance to speak with one of the adult sponsors of the Vernon branch and asked him why being a part of Steve Nash’s Youth Basketball League is so crucial to these kids: “Steve Nash is a solid guy and someone these kids really look up to. He’s an unselfish – and Canadian – player. Being a part of a community team really encourages teamwork amongst these kids.” With that kind of starting point, it would come as no surprise to see some of these young faces in future draft picks!
The opportunity to see Steve Nash play at home has proven to be a huge deal both to these kids and fans alike and most definitely created a memorable experience. When all was said and done, the bright lights faded, the squeak of sneakers on hardwood disappeared and the basketballs were once again lined up in the trolley. What ultimately ended in a crushing pre-season loss for the Suns still proved to be a thrilling evening for local fans in Vancouver. We were able to call the Suns our team, Steve Nash our hero and claim basketball as our sport – even if for one night only.