ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — If you want to find Lakers PG Steve Nash in the summer, a good bet is to look somewhere around a soccer field. Not only is Nash a part-owner of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps, but Nash has always loved playing the beautiful game, so much so that each summer he organizes the Steve Nash Foundation Showdown to benefit his charitable foundation.
Nash is in New York City today to train with Inter Milan, in conjunction with the Guinness International Champions Cup. We grabbed a few minutes with Nash this morning…
ME: So run this down for me: You’re trying out for Inter Milan today?
NASH: (laughs) Sort of, yeah. I think that’s the way it’s being labeled, but it’s more of an honorary tryout, more like I’m going to go practice with them. But yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
ME: What position do you play in soccer?
NASH: Anything attacking. More like a midfielder, but anything going forward.
ME: So like a true number 10, sort of?
NASH: Yeah! I mean, in my youth, yes.
ME: Did you see Nate Robinson is going to wear number 10 in honor of Messi?
NASH: Yeah, I did.
ME: I remembered Nate playing in the Showdown a couple of years ago — I didn’t know if you put him on to soccer?
NASH: (laughs) Right, he’s converted now.
ME: I’ve been talking about soccer with you for over a decade. You’ve seen the growth of soccer in the States over that time, and now you’re involved with MLS. Do you think soccer has turned a corner in the States in terms of popularity?
NASH: I think the game’s growing incredibly. The exposure, the amount of games you can watch on TV. One of the kind of alarming things to me is just — I mean, it’s on the ticker on “SportsCenter.” When I was in college you’d never see a soccer score on the ticker. Now, every day there’s a soccer result on the ticker on “SportsCenter.” And yeah, that kind of says something about the solidity the game has in the States right now. It’s going in the right direction.
ME: I know basketball has become really popular in Canada, and I was wondering is there any sort of similarity between the growth of basketball in Canada and the growth of soccer in the States?
NASH: Yeah, I guess in some ways. Soccer was always pretty big in Canada. Not that we’re a soccer power, but the game was big. Basketball is taking a soccer-like turn in Canada, the way soccer is growing in the States. I think a big part of it was having the Raptors and the Grizzlies in Canada, which really gave kids a lot of exposure to the game but also something to strive for. I also think the internet over the last ten years — there’s no more secrets. Kids can go online and see the best kids of their age groups, or best practices, and I think kids have taken that opportunity and run with it.
ME: How are you feeling, physically?
NASH: Good, coming around. Good enough to embarrass myself on the soccer field. I’m not quite 100 percent, I can’t quite sprint, but I’ve been able to train around it, so I’ve made a lot of progress in other ways, and hopefully in the next three or four weeks I should be one hundred percent.
ME: What kind of forecast can you give us for the Lakers this season?
NASH: I think everyone’s kind of counting us out, which is fine by me. I think it’s good for us to fly under the radar a little bit. We’ve got a lot of new pieces, we’ve got guys coming off injuries, myself included. So we’ve got to find out where everyone’s health is, and then figure out each other and play together, and hopefully we can surprise some people.
ME: Last thing: What is it like being around Kobe Bryant, being around someone with that singular of a drive?
NASH: I think people kind of know what he’s like. He’s very single-minded, he’s very prepared, very intense. You can feel it, you feel the intensity. I think that’s what people expect and that’s what he is.