NEW YORK — This past Wednesday was a day that I had marked on my calendar for weeks. I’ve played soccer my entire life all the way through college and I’ve been on the Suns’ bandwagon since I was 8 (purple room and all). TheShowdown in Chinatown was a perfect marriage between the two favorite things in my life, soccer and the Suns (it’s OK, my girlfriend doesn’t read VotS).
It was a week before the event when I received an email from Pickup Soccer NYC asking for volunteers for the Showdown. Bingo! A chance to go and get inside of the cage at Sara D. Roosevelt Park for the best game all year … I think so.
For those of you that might not know, the Showdown in Chinatown is an annual soccer game that Nash holds in NYC with teams composed of various NBA players and soccer players from around the world. All of the proceeds go to the Steve Nash Foundation to help serve underprivileged kids. A front row seat to see some of my favorite athletes play my favorite sport was exactly what the doctor called for when he told me to randomly take off a Wednesday in the middle of June.
The two teams were captained by Nash and former U.S. national team captain, Claudio Reyna. Each team had three actual soccer players, four if you count Nash’s father (who played professionally in South Africa but had to be 20 years senior to the 2nd oldest player). The rest of the rosters were filled out by NBA players and a few Joes that paid to play with the stars.
Team Reyna (White)
- Patrick Viera (Manchester City/France)
- Tony Parker
- Marc Stein
- Brandon Jennings
- Demba Ba (Newcastle United)
- Yuri Djorkaeff (France – retired)
- Claudio Reyna (U.S.A. – retired)
Team Nash (Navy)
- Leandro Barbosa
- Martin Nash (Canada – retired)
- Raja Bell
- Giuseppe Ross (Villareal/Italy)
- John Nash (father)
- Richie Williams (U.S.A.)
- Simone Sandri (Seton Hall/NBA TV)
- Joe 1
- Joe 2
- Joe 3
Alright, let’s get this out of the way from the tip … Brandon Jennings is STILL the worst soccer player in America. For all of his sick handle and his Neo-like body control, Jennings looks like he’s wearing cement shoes on the pitch. He missed two absolute sitters of epic proportions, including one where he didn’t even have to beat the goalie, he just had to use any part of his body to put the ball in from 18 inches away … no chance. Enough of the bad, let’s talk about the good.
Nash started the game with a spirited salutation to an energetic crowd packed into bleachers on one end and standing two deep around the field and another three deep around the chain link fence. Aside from the star participants, members of the crowd included Jay Williams and the Sarver family (Mr. Sarver was sporting quite the scraggily beard I must say – his wife called it “his summer look”). A few moments later the first whistle blew and play began.
The first goal didn’t take long as Demba Ba juggled the ball effortlessly past a Navy defender and slotted it home. After that, it was all Team Nash all the time. Steve naturally drifted through the open pockets of defenders and was always finding an open man showcasing the vision that helped him earn his Two-Time moniker.
Now, I’ve been around the game for a long time and I’ve seen the best players in the world display their talents, and I can confidently say that had Nash chosen soccer over basketball, he would still be living very comfortably. At one point he juggled the ball with his left foot in the corner before delivering a pinpoint lefty cross. Later he would hit a full lefty volley from a few yards out that Gortat could only stop with his groin.
Nash seamlessly fit in with the other soccer players. Speaking of the Polish Hammer, it was very evident where he developed his propensity to dive for loose balls. Gortat grew up playing goalie in the youth system for one of the best teams in Poland and the translation of styles is very apparent. I’m not sure how much Sarver enjoyed watching Gortat dive back and forth on the turf while getting pelted by his teammates, but the big guy looked very comfortable in net.
To add a bit of friendly insult to injury, Jared Dudley got on the mic during the game and conjectured about Gortat’s likeness to the Green Lantern in his goalie jersey and nicknamed him the New Abe Lincoln due to Gortat’s facial hair.
The goals for Team Nash were flowing, but for what Team Reyna lacked in defense, they certainly made up for in their goal-scoring celebrations. I told Dudley before the game that he better have a good celebration if he scored to which he confidently assured me he would … and he didn’t disappoint.
After his first goal, J Dud ripped his jersey off and sprinted toward midfield swinging it wildly around his head before ending with a headfirst triumphant slide. After the Junkyard Dog finished a garbage goal for his second, he ran down the sideline high-fiving the crowd before attempting to make an impromptu speech on a dead mic … FAIL, but the crowd ate it up.
Dudley’s on-field and on-court teammate Grant Hill recently tweeted, in reference to the Showdown, “I know I’m better than @JaredDudley619.” While this is debatable, he did score a goal of his own and celebrated with a great two-step jig that sent the crowd wild.
The game was finally laid to rest on a final goal by former Sun Leandro Barbosa with the final score Team Nash 16 – Team Reyna 10. Afterward, the teams gathered for pictures and the stars signed autographs for the spectators.
It was refreshing to see an influential superstar bring together a group of his peers to champion such a worthy cause through such an accessible medium. It’s this type of candidness that has always endeared Nash to his fans in Phoenix and is why he will always be loved in the Valley.
Jason Lalk is a guest writer for ValleyoftheSuns. Follow him on Twitter @JLalk.
Check out more photos from the event:
UPDATE: TrueHoop TV on Steve Nash the ‘ruthless killer’
Through video, TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott captures a humorous side of the event complete with a Nash shot that nails Gortat in the crotch.