Step up for the Tall Blacks, Steven

The Tuesday Morning Quarterback has the latest oil on Steven Adams' self-imposed Tall Blacks exile.

In breaking news, basketball Goliath Steven Adams has vowed never to buy a large flat screen TV, go on a skiing holiday or drink a bottle of 2009 Chateau Latour.

Sources not at all close to the OKC Thunder centre have confirmed that Adams plans to extend his fatwah on things he couldn’t afford when he was 17 – like trips away with the New Zealand basketball team – to goods and services. And travel agents.

Adams, it is understood, becomes anxious in the presence of televisions over 52 inches, prefers craft beer anyway, and has never felt particularly comfortable performing a reverse cork 720 on skis.

All of this is a hangover from his childhood, when he routinely had to turn down any opportunities in life that cost more than $2000 due to his family’s crippling poverty.

None of this will be a surprise, of course, given recent revelations Adams apparently declined to play basketball for his country due to missing out on selection for age grade teams as a teenager due to a lack of ability to pay the costs associated with the honour.


This column has heard this line of explanation for what amounts to a dereliction of a duty – most recently proffered by Adams’ former mentor Kenny McFadden – plenty of times before.

It kind of rings true. And also smacks of convenience.

Everyone has priorities in life. Adams’ list of to-dos, in recent times, has included cracking the NBA draft at a high enough position to earn a signing bonus large enough to be life changing for himself and his extended family (check); proving wrong the haters who mocked his first round selection at number 12 by OKC in the 2013 draft (check); earning a $NZ140 million contract extension (check); and performing the impossible by living up to the ridiculous value of that contract (check).

None of that, sadly, aligns with putting himself in harms way in a Tall Blacks singlet in the rough and tumble world of international basketball when he would otherwise be recuperating from a grueling NBA campaign.

Adams has plenty of rea$on$ not to play for the Tall Blacks.

Adams’ economically-enforced snubbing as a talented teenager by Basketball New Zealand isn’t, in fact, about his motivation not to play for his country – but rather his lack of compelling reasons to play.

Had Adams been an integral part of the national team set up throughout his formative years, the theory goes, he’d find it much harder to turn his back on black. He’d have developed deep friendships with fellow players who have also now risen through the system to senior men’s level, and would have a deeper affinity with what it means to represent his country.

Well, yeah, maybe.

That rather ignores that Adams, through his uber-Kiwi persona, does in fact represent New Zealand positively and proudly on the massive international stage that is the NBA. And the fact that he consistently gives back to his sport and community. Much of the time he doesn’t spend with the Tall Blacks, he spends at clinics for aspiring Kiwi kids, or hosting his charity golf tournament.

Given what has been at stake in the 24-year-old’s still fledgling career, it’s hard to argue he hasn’t made the prudent decision – up to this point.

The prevailing sentiment now, however, is that Adams is both financially secure and a fully-fledged NBA star. As such, the time has come for him to end his Tall Blacks exile. And that, by not doing so, he is letting his country down.

If Adams did turn out for the Tall Blacks, the effect would be profound. The team would have a titan on the court and a talisman off it. The prospect of success at major tournaments such as the World Championships and Olympics would be greatly enhanced, and the sport in this country might finally cast-off its minor sport shackles.

Given what they are missing out on, it’s easy to point the bone at Basketball NZ for dropping the ball seven years ago. But, really, what were those in charge to do? Money doesn’t grow on trees. And, if it did, those trees would be planted in the plush gardens of the New Zealand Rugby Union, not in the carpark outside the proverbial flat above a shop that is Basketball NZ’s Abel Smith Street headquarters.

Should Basketball NZ have diverted some of its meagre resources to ensuring Adams could play in junior teams in the hope that he would one day soon morph from a raw-boned kid into a global superstar – and then feel compelled to return and sprinkle his magic dust around the joint?

Hell yes, hindsight suggests.

But, really? What about the almost as talented kid who was also too poor to afford the trip. And the next one? And the one after that?

It’s a sad fact that, in New Zealand, national junior selection in minor sports (for that read every sport bar rugby union) will very often come at a cost. That cost will, unfortunately, be too much for many families to bear, meaning the honour of national representation is a privilege only the privileged can achieve.

Until this country comes up with a better way of funding sports than pitting governing bodies against each other in a scrap for corporate sponsorship, pokie grants and tax payer funding that is routinely funnelled to a select few, this is the way it is going to be.

It really sucks.

If Steven Adams is still aggrieved at the way things played out in his teens, he might well want to consider that he is far from alone in being denied an opportunity he deserved. And that many of the others who missed out never made it to the NBA or the Premier League or the ATP Tour. And that they don’t now have the chance to right that wrong by turning out for their national team and inspiring the next generation.

We can only hope that, one day soon, Adams returns from a skiing holiday, flicks on his monster flat screen, cracks a bottle of 2009 Chateau Latour and tunes into a Tall Blacks match. And that watching his countrymen toil without him stirs something inside, and he thinks: ‘it’s time’.

If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. At least his spot in the team will be filled by someone who treasures it.

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