Nash helps bridge NBA generations

Steve Nash, who will retire after next season, is an ideal choice to offer insight from past to present. Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- Steve Nash, 40, has spent more than half of his life in the United States playing basketball. There were the four years he spent at Santa Clara University, followed by 18 seasons and counting in the NBA. But there are still times when the native tongue of the former resident of Victoria, British Columbia, comes out.

"It had been a tough road," Nash said into a microphone during a recent recording session for NBA TV's upcoming documentary, "The84Draft," set to air Monday.

Nash, a member of the equally heralded 1996 draft (which included Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen and Allen Iverson), is narrating the film.

And his "been" sounded more like "bean."

"Is the 'bean' a Canadian thing?" interjected Zak Levitt, the documentary's director, as he walked Nash through the script.

"I could throw some 'Ehs' in there," Nash shot back with a chuckle.

For Nash, who received critical praise for his web documentary series, "The Finish Line," with ESPN's Grantland.com that chronicled his 2013-14 season with the Los Angeles Lakers, "The84Draft" is more than just another film project that he has signed on for.

"I thought it would be cool because I grew up kind of idolizing a lot of those players," Nash said.

With the 30th anniversary of the 1984 draft occurring this year -- a draft that produced league luminaries such as Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton -- and another class full of franchise-changing potential in Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, set to restock the talent in the NBA's cupboards, Nash was the perfect choice to bridge the generations.

"He's a guy that went back far enough where he could talk about that draft, remembering it like we all do, but also the fact that he played against these guys," said Dion Cocoros, senior vice president of original production for NBA Entertainment. "In the film, you see him D-ing up John Stockton. This is a guy that, whatever part of the story he was telling, he had that credibility because he played with these guys and also is a Hall of Fame-caliber player who, someday, people will be looking back on his draft class the same way."

As much of a connection Nash has to '84, he plans to wrap up his illustrious career in 2014-15 as the new wave of draftees begins theirs.

"I'm going to probably hopefully play with a lot of players from both drafts, if not all of them," Nash said. "So, I probably missed a few players from that draft that fizzled out or went out [of the league] early, but the majority of them I got to play against and hopefully next year I get to play against all these newcomers."

NBA TV has made a feature documentary part of its annual programming schedule, airing on an off day in between games during the NBA Finals. In 2012, it was "The Dream Team," the story behind the 1992 U.S. Olympic team. In 2013, it was "The Doctor," about the life of Julius Erving. That documentary won an Emmy.

"That's one of the things we're most proud of," Cocoros said. "We're not just doing these shows. We're doing them for our network and that's our audience and our fanbase and it's like they're expecting a great story now every June and we're happy to deliver."

The story of the 1984 draft is headlined by Hall of Famers Jordan, Olajuwon, Barkley and Stockton but goes much deeper than that.

"There's five Hall of Famers in the draft," Cocoros said. "The fifth one is Oscar Schmidt, and last year when I was at the Hall of Fame, I listened to him give his passionate speech. It definitely set a little bit of a trigger in my mind that his story is a great one. Just in general, the way he's so proud of the fact that he's one of the all-time great basketball players not to play in the NBA, but his Hall of Fame speech was legendary in terms of his passion. When we kind of said, 'Well, you know he's part of this draft class too. OK, now we're up to five Hall of Famers.'"

Cocoros and his crew flew to Brazil to interview Schmidt in his homeland. Nash points out in his narration in one point of the film that Schmidt scored 10,000-plus points more than the NBA's all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in Brazilian leagues.

"We just really had to tell people about him," Cocoros said. "He's one of the greatest players in the world that a lot of people might not know about because he didn't play in the NBA, but he was every bit as colorful when we went down to Brazil. He's a legend down there. He's really made people, in a country that's built around soccer, he's really given basketball a name. It's nice, we show some of the images of the current Brazilian players like [Leandro] Barbosa, [Tiago] Splitter and Nene [Hilario] and how he's like a legend for them and paved the way for them."

Asides from Schmidt, the film focuses on lesser-known members of the draft class such as Rick Carlisle -- selected No. 70, in the third round, by the Boston Celtics -- who went on to become a championship-winning coach with the Dallas Mavericks, Leon Wood -- selected No. 10 in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers -- who went on to become a long-time referee, and the tragic tale of Dan Trant -- selected with the final pick of the 10th and final round by Boston -- who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"The other guys we kind of knew about," Cocoros said. "But Dan Trant is a guy, we were just looking at the draft list, they always call that pick Mr. Irrelevant. Back then there were 10 rounds. He was pick No. 228. He was a kid from Clark University, a local kid. Red Auerbach drafted him, it was kind of like a nice-story guy. He went to school in Boston and when we researched it a little bit, we found that he unfortunately died in the World Trade Center. He worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and he died in 9/11. And we started digging a little bit and talked to some people who remembered him. We talked to Jeff Van Gundy, who played against him at Nazereth and he knew him. And we interviewed his son, who was only a little kid at the time, about his dad's death and he opened up to us. So, it's a really nice story about someone who, as his coach says, he's anything but irrelevant. I think that was a nice way to put it."

The film also includes minutia from the draft that even the most hard-core hoop head would probably be surprised to learn (did you know track-and-field legend Carl Lewis was selected with the No. 208 pick by the Chicago Bulls?) but also hits on the big-picture moments that intertwined the fates of the draft's stars.

"In 1997, Barkley and Hakeem team up to try to go for another title with the Rockets," Cocoros said. "They lose to Stockton on that classic buzzer-beater and then Stockton goes to the [NBA] Finals and loses to Jordan. So, one playoffs, four guys are all tied. So that's just, as you're building the story, it really helps to find those spots in their careers to kind of add to it. There's a lot of crossover."

And this year's draft on June 26 offers a unique crossover for Nash, who also serves as the general manager of the Canadian national team.

"This is a special year for me because there's a chance to have like seven Canadians drafted, let alone with Wiggins, [Nik] Stauskas and [Tyler] Ennis being projected to go in the lottery," Nash said. "It's a pretty amazing time for Canada basketball."

And 1984 was a pretty amazing time for the NBA.

"The history of the game was changed," Cocoros said. "There was also a commissioner change that year. It's also parallel to this year with a commissioner change. It's very interesting the parallels in '84. It was David Stern's first year in 1984. It was the first draft he presided over and it's crazy to think about what the league became after that and how these guys became such icons. And not just those guys, the other guys I mentioned too, bring this draft class to life."