Basketball: NBA pioneer Sean Marks backs Steven Adams over Tall Blacks absence

NBA trailblazer Sean Marks has urged Kiwi basketball fans to cut Steven Adams some slack over his continued absence from the Tall Blacks international programme.

When coronavirus brought the current NBA season to a halt two months ago, Adams had amassed more than 550 games across seven seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but had never turned out for the national team through two World Cups and two Olympic qualifying campaigns over that period.

While that apparent indifference has undoubtedly frustrated fans back home, Marks is probably best placed to assess the challenges facing the seven-foot (2.13m) centre, as he negotiates his high-octane career path.

Drafted in 1998, Marks was the first Kiwi to play in the US professional league, bouncing around six different teams over a 13-year stint that included a championship ring with San Antonio Spurs and another as assistant coach.

These days, he has carved out another NBA career as Brooklyn Nets general manager, rebuilding a struggling franchise into a title contender. 

But while he counts his Tall Blacks exploits among his most cherished basketball memories, Marks is reluctant to judge Adams. 

"We can all judge from afar, but nobody quite knows what he's having to go through on a personal note," he told Newshub.

"He's a starting centre in the league and playing big minutes on a very good team for a very long time now.

"There is recovery time needed in the off-season, there's niggling injuries that require surgery often, so there's a lot of those things that keep you from going 365 days.

"Me personally, I would not be quick to judge, but if he has an opportunity to play for the Tall Blacks, I think he'd cherish that."

Marks, 44, represented New Zealand at two Olympics - Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 - and was part of the roster that reached the 2002 world championship semi-finals at Indianapolis.

He admits one of his career disappointments was not playing more for the national side, often through unseen NBA commitments.

"For me, the off-season here was just as valuable as the season," he reflects. "I was always, 'where am I going next?'

"I was having to play summer league and work out with various different teams. Unfortunately, that was an obstacle to me playing for the Tall Blacks as much as I could have, but it is what is.

"I was able to represent my country, but also look after my family and future, and set myself up now to have the relationships I have."

In his latest role, Marks keeps a close eye on Adams.

Steven Adams during an NZ coaching clinic
Steven Adams during an NZ coaching clinic. Photo credit: Photosport

"I see him at least a couple of times a year, and we have a couple of phone calls and text messages during the season.

"I always really enjoy every interaction I've had with him. To be honest, not a lot of it is about basketball - it's more about life outside basketball, setting yourself up for the future and any advice I can certainly help him with.

"He's a smart young man and he's got his priorities in the right place, which is terrific.

"The fact that he always brings me lollies and candy from New Zealand, I do like that too. I look forward to those meetings."

Marks highlights the work Adams does through junior camps in New Zealand, contributing to the sport back home, even if he can't wear the black singlet.

"He's keeping it real around who you are, where you come from and what your background is. 

"That's something he will never lose and you've got to give him a ton of credit for that."

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