Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams is yet to become a Tall Black.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams is yet to become a Tall Black.

Betrayal accusation sparks NBA player's NZ team snub

KIWI NBA star Steven Adams has revealed why he is yet to pull on the Tall Blacks singlet.

In his autobiography Steven Adams: My Life, My Fight, Adams has for the first time delved into why he has snubbed New Zealand's national basketball team.

Adams confirmed a report by the NZ Herald earlier this month that revealed Adams held a grudge against Basketball New Zealand for not being able to financially support him at a young age.

Adams' mentor, Kenny McFadden, said that when his young charge wanted to play for NZ, "he got no money and couldn't play".

McFadden said it was a snub that had irked then teenager Adams.

He said the NBA star now felt more obligated to the Oklahoma City Thunder, where Adams' priorities were to be the best player he could be and help contribute to a successful 2018-19 season.

Adams has now elaborated on the reasons for not joining the Tall Blacks, recalling the time he couldn't link up with McFadden's Junior Tall Blacks side.

"I couldn't afford it. To represent New Zealand as a young athlete costs a lot of money, not just in basketball but in all sports. Being selected for an age-group national side to play in an international tournament would cost each player thousands of dollars," Adams said.

"I knew of players who went on every trip, at least once a year, because their parents could easily afford to play for each tournament. But there were a lot of players, most of them brown, some of them the best in the country, who never once represented New Zealand because they couldn't afford to trial, let alone to fly overseas.

Steven Adams is on a four-year, $100 million contact with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty
Steven Adams is on a four-year, $100 million contact with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty

"I hate to think how many guys I played with could have had careers in basketball if they'd just been given more help (like I was) when they were younger."

Adams said he would play for the Tall Blacks "some day" but many people didn't understand his position, stressing he had more loyalty to his Thunder side in the NBA than he did to the Tall Blacks.

"In most sports, representing New Zealand in a black singlet is the peak. Athletics, netball, rowing … but there are some sports, such as soccer, tennis and basketball, where playing overseas is the ultimate goal. That's the pinnacle of those sports," Adams said.

"Yes, I would love to represent New Zealand by playing for the Tall Blacks, but right now I don't feel I have time to give it my best and play a full NBA season.

"It probably doesn't help that I don't feel a great sense of loyalty to Basketball New Zealand. I like what the current Tall Blacks coach, Paul Henare, has been doing with the team and I would love to play for him at some point, but I need to be ready.

"Some might expect me to be the Basketball New Zealand poster child, but I did the opposite of rising through the ranks of the junior national teams. Being in a national team is far too expensive for most kids - me included.

"It takes a village to raise a child, apparently. And it takes a village to fundraise for one too.

"New Zealand does best when everyone is invested. I had my own little community of helpers who pushed me towards my passion, but that's not a cost-effective approach.

"Kenny still takes every morning training, like he has for over a decade, and I know there will be plenty more basketballers thanking him for their success in years to come. But for now, his project from 2008 has one focus and that focus is the Thunder and the NBA."

Adams said he wanted to give back to young basketballers who were in the same situation he found himself in earlier in his career.

"Paying it forward is what I like doing. Giving a leg-up to people who are doing everything they can but could do with some support," he said.

"There's not a single successful person who didn't get help from a bunch of people along the way.

"But I know that most of the people who helped me did so because they wanted to, not because they thought they might be rewarded later.

"Now I want to be that person for a bunch of other kids. It's human nature to help others, and now that I have money and some influence I want to use it to help as many people as possible.

"If I can see that kids are fighting and trying to be better, I'll do whatever I can to help them along. When a young player needs new shoes or can't afford stationery or a basketball trip, that's when I'm willing to spend my money.

"We have the talent in New Zealand, there's no doubt about that, we just need the systems and pathways in place so that kids can stay on track and not lose out because they're poor or live in the wrong city.

"If I have my way, New Zealand will be a basketball nation among the best in the world before I die. That's the kind of legacy I want to help build."

This article first appeared in the NZ Herald and was republished with permission

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