Opinion: NBA star Steven Adams must put past wrongs behind him

Steve Adams
Kiwi NBA star Steve Adams. Photo credit: Getty.

OPINION: Make no mistake – Steven Adams owes Basketball NZ nothing.

But as someone said in a movie once – I think it was Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa – you don't have to owe something to give something.

Over the weekend, NZME revealed that the Oklahoma City NBA star had repeatedly snubbed the Tall Blacks because the national body expected him to pay his own way through national junior programmes as a teenager.

That's true. At the time, I was BBNZ national teams general manager, and one of my roles was to oversee coach appointment and team selection processes.

One of the glaring weaknesses of our junior teams - and probably across many sports - was that selection was tied very closely to parents' ability to pay for their child's participation. Many good players could not afford that commitment – Adams was undoubtedly one of them.

At the time, he was just a skinny kid with raw athleticism and not much else, but was on a development pathway under the tutorship of former NBL superstar and then-Junior Tall Blacks coach Kenny McFadden.

In 2009, Adams played for the NZ U17 team against Australia and helped them to the verge of world championship qualification.

Earlier that same year, New Zealand hosted the FIBA U19 World Championship in Auckland and the Junior Tall Blacks faced an extensive build-up for that event. Fresh off the streets of Rotorua, there's no way Adams could have funded that without considerable assistance.

Outsiders probably think national sporting organisations have a bottomless pit of money to pay for projects like the Junior Tall Blacks. In reality, most are scrambling just to make ends meet and are forced to cut corners wherever possible. 

Every now and then, someone like Adams slips through the cracks.

Whether he could afford it or not, at 15, Adams would have been three years younger than the players he was competing against and the Junior Tall Blacks centre that year was a kid named Rob Loe, who went on to average 18.8 points a game at the world tournament.

If Adams still has a beef against BBNZ, I suspect it has as much to do with how McFadden was treated during and after that campaign.

This was an important event for the game in New Zealand and with the best of intentions, we tried to put a support team around McFadden that would help bring out the best in him and his players.

In retrospect, many of those moves had exactly the opposite effect to what was intended.

In pool play, New Zealand performed well against eventual bronze medallists Croatia and Argentina, but lost a game they should have won against Kazakhstan and finished a disappointing 13th. 

Kenny McFadden
Former Junior Tall Blacks coach Kenny McFadden in action. Photo credit: Photosport.

McFadden fared badly in reviews and – probably unfairly - hasn't coached a national team since.

Whatever his perceived shortcomings, 'Kenny Mac' was undoubtedly responsible for getting his protege where he is today and if that mistreatment is a factor in Adams' continued absence from the Tall Blacks, that's understandable.

Except no-one involved in that campaign is still with Basketball NZ almost a decade later. An ongoing grudge would be somewhat misplaced.

If Adams is still sour at missing out on national teams, he's now in a perfect position to help others in the same predicament.

Those programmes now have some sponsorship, but there are undoubtedly still players left out for financial reasons. He wouldn't necessarily have to dip into his own pocket – his presence at a fundraising dinner and auction once a year would help generate an appropriate trust fund.

There could be any number of reasons why Adams hasn’t pulled on the black singlet yet.

One of those could be, after 82 regular season games plus playoffs -many of them back to back and sometimes five in a week - his body needs to recover before doing it all over again.

I hope Adams does turn out for the Tall Blacks someday – but only if he brings the right attitude with him, not a chip on his shoulder.

If you have to beg a player to come play, you’re probably better off without them.

Grant Chapman is Newshub online sports editor and former Tall Blacks manager.