Wales

NBA: Basketball star Steve Nash, the unlikely Welshman

Steve Nash Image copyright Getty Images

Wales is not the first thing that comes to mind when talking about the all-American, multi-millionaire super stars of the NBA.

But then Steve Nash is not your average all-American, multi-millionaire NBA superstar.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, worth an estimated £75m, you wonder how life might have turned out for him had his parents not decided to emigrate many years ago.

For the Californian surfer-style good looks of the sportsman, philanthropist, coach, motivational speaker, football club owner and businessman, belie a distinctly British heritage.

"I have a huge soft spot for my Welsh heritage," he tells me.

Nearly 10 years after tracking down and interviewing Nash's late grandfather in his flat in Swansea's St Helen's, I have finally caught up with the grandson whose framed photograph took pride of place on his bedside table.

One of the least well known sons of Wales, Nash's journey to the NBA has been an interesting one.

It goes back all the way to Swansea Bay where Nash's mother, Jean Hall, grew up before heading to the 'big smoke' where her father worked as a police constable.

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Image caption Nash helped locals in New Orleans recover after Hurricane Katrina

There she met and later married John, an aspiring advertising executive from Tottenham.

The young couple embarked on a new life together emigrating to South Africa. Nash, their first child, was born in Johannesburg in 1974.

But not keen on their family growing up under apartheid, the Nash's made their next move. This time to Canada.

The family relocated to Regina, Saskatchewan, and finally Vancouver Island, welcoming two other children along the way.

From a young age Nash, who now has the likes of Red Hot Chilli Peppers star Flea on speed dial, had dreamed of sporting greatness. But it had nothing to do with basketball.

"I may have grown up on the west coast of Canada but in a British household and my dad was an avid Tottenham Hotspur fan just like his dad," Steve recalls.

"Spurs are a way of life for me. Football was my first love but I was better at basketball.

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Image caption Nash joined Samuel L Jackson to present an award at the 2008 Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award

"I reckon my love of playing football and that competitive spirit definitely helped my basketball career."

And how? He smashed records with university team Santa Clara, starting as he meant to go on.

But there's more to Steve Nash than being the National Basketball Association's two-time most valuable player.

As mentioned earlier, he has many strings to his bow - the Steve Nash foundation raises millions of dollars for disadvantaged children worldwide, closer to home he has set up a junior basketball league, then there's his media production company, his chain of gyms and the two football clubs he part owns.

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Media captionSteve Nash

Undeniably the humanitarian focus of his work helped earn him a place alongside The Pope, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates in Time Magazine's Most Influential People in the World list in 2006.

'So what is the driving force behind Wales' un-sung son?' I wondered. It was a question I put to him during our chat during his most recent pilgrimage to Tottenham Hotspur's training ground.

"My parents taught me about inequality," he says.

"I was lucky to grow up where and how I did, there is always people less fortunate than you and it is up to us to share in the responsibility to help others."

His late grandfather Les Hall staked a genetic claim to Nash's humanitarian leanings. After leaving the police, Mr Hall was a social worker and probation officer and, half joking, told me: "Stevie must have got the caring side from me."

"I love going to see Steve," he went on to say. "I'm treated like royalty."

And Nash said he had enjoyed "rolling out the red carpet" for his "lovely granddad'.

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"Our elders allow us to succeed and be the people we are fortunate to become," he adds.

Family means everything according to Nash, who is up early every morning with his three children from his first marriage, to get them ready for school.

He has spoken about the "really great home and family" he has built with Lilla Frederick, the former US junior volleyball player who he married in September.

keeping it in the family extends to his business dealings as his parents help run his foundation.

"He wants to make a difference in everything he does," Mrs Nash told me of her son.

"He's a really great guy and cares about everybody, whether that is his team-mates or children he has never met.

"Above all, that is what makes us, as his parents, so proud."

Nash occasionally visits London, naturally squeezing in a Spurs game, so knows all about where his father grew up. He is now keen to explore more of his mother's home.

"I would definitely love to take the kids to Wales to see where their nanny and great grandparents lived," said Nash, referring to twin 12-year-old daughters, Lola and Bella, and five-year-old son Matteo.

Indeed his Welsh heritage came to the forefront this summer as he watched the Welsh football team reach the European Championships semi-final.

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Image caption Nash is basketball's only player to light the Olympic flame at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver

"Wales were so exciting to watch with terrific performances but what I loved was their togetherness and fighting spirit," he says.

"I'm sure everyone back in Wales was immensely proud and drawn to them as a group.

"I watched every game from home in southern California, Wales were so charismatic. They had the country on fire for a couple of weeks.

"What got me was that belief and unwillingness to look across the line and see a team that most people would have picked ahead of them.

"Getting to the semi-final proved they are in with a shout against anyone in the world now.

"And being a Spurs fan, I love Gareth Bale. He is a truly world class player. He was fantastic for us when he hit his stride and I think he has been fantastic for Real Madrid, under a lot of pressure. He always rises to occasion in the big matches.

"And as a fan of football I'm glad to see Swansea in the Premier League. It gives me a reference point for friends in the US when I'm describing where mom is from."

So it seems Swansea has greater trans-Atlantic links than just having a football club with American owners.

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