NBA MVP Nash runs with Red Bulls
NBA MVP Steve Nash spent the day training with the New York Red Bulls.
As New York Red Bulls head coach Bruce Arena briefed his team prior to training Thursday, he had an extra bit of instruction for the players: Don't tackle No. 13.
"I think he was kind of looking at me," joked midfielder Danny O'Rourke, who is known for his physical play.
That No. 13 happened to be Phoenix Suns point guard and two-time reigning NBA MVP Steve Nash, who surprised the Red Bulls by participating in a full practice with the side at Giants Stadium.
"That [came] kind of out of nowhere when we were sitting in the locker room and all of a sudden, [Red Bull New York director of communications Eric] Tosi comes by and says, 'Steve Nash is training with us today,'" said defender Marvell Wynne. "I kind of did a double take."
"My biggest concern was him getting hurt," Arena said. "A friend of mine is one of the assistants at Phoenix so I don't want to send back the MVP of the NBA in an ambulance."
Instead of getting hurt, Nash said he had the time of his life. He participated in all of the Red Bulls' warm-up drills, featured in possession drills and was able to crack some shots in on goal - many of which hit the target.
Afterwards, Nash was full of praise for the Red Bulls.
"They just were great," Nash said. "They really made it easy for me, they made it a lot of fun for me. They're lucky, they have a great group of guys. They seem to have a good time, but are very focused and I think that's probably comes down to Bruce a lot."
His fitness from being a top NBA player served him well on Thursday, as Arena noted.
"I think he could probably play in this league. Obviously, he's a superbly conditioned athlete," Arena said. "The way you watch him play in the NBA, he's a point guard that probably plays over 40 minutes a game and you see his fitness level is good on the soccer field as well."
Nash, whose brother is a professional soccer player and has featured for the Canadian national team, said that he grew up in a household that loves soccer. His father, too, played professionally, but in eighth grade, with North America's infatuation with Michael Jordan, Nash chose basketball over soccer as his primary sport.
Still, he won a provincial championship in soccer while playing for his high school team.
"That's one of my fondest memories from school," Nash said.
Because of his rigorous season and busy summer, Nash said that he usually does not have a chance to play soccer often. For many Red Bulls however, Nash looked sharp.
"He's technically [sound] and he's a good player," O'Rourke said. "He comes out here and it didn't skip a beat [when he played] so it's exciting to have him out here."
"He's a great guy, first of all. He comes in, says hi to everybody, 'nice to meet you' and it was a lot of fun," Wynne added.
About Nash's playing ability, Wynne said: "He was pretty good. We were playing a little bit of keep-away and his passing percentage was anywhere from 90 to 100 percent."
Arena said that Nash's greatest attribute, however, is his acumen.
"The thing he has that he has in basketball is he has a brain. He is a very sharp and alert guy," Arena said.
Nash is a soccer nut off the court, supporting English Premiership side Tottenham Hotspur. He said that he watches "10 times" more soccer than basketball on television and just completed his second trip to a World Cup. In Germany, he saw four matches and the competition's semifinals and finals.
As for his experience training with the team, Nash noted the differences in conditioning between basketball and soccer.
"Basketball is difficult and a very physical sport too, but soccer is a totally different deal - running long distances, short and long sprints, aerobic, anaerobic and also [playing] 90 minutes," he said. "It takes a lot more to recover from a soccer game than a basketball game," Nash said.
With the praise of players and coaches as well as his stellar fitness, it was suggested after practice that Nash should give professional soccer a shot after he hangs up his shoes - similar to Jordan trying out baseball after he first retired.
"Obviously I'd like to, but is it realistic? I doubt it," Nash said. "It's a dream come true and I really admire Michael for trying it. Who cares about what people say about it? He went out, played the sport at a pretty high level and he hadn't played for a long time. I can relate that he felt like a kid in the candy shop just being out there."
But as for the Red Bulls' game against FC Barcelona this Saturday?
"I haven't told anyone yet, but I looked at this as a tryout. Come Saturday, I might be able to [be] a substitute against Barcelona," Nash joked.