"Ah, too soon, mate! Too soon!"
Still feeling the sting of the All Blacks' shocking loss to England in the semifinals of the Rugby World Cup, Steven Adams ambled over with a faux expression of anguish on his face. Adams, a center for the Oklahoma City Thunder and a famous and favorite son of New Zealand, is a dedicated fan of rugby and resolute supporter of the All Blacks. He went to bed after the Thunder's game last Friday against the Washington Wizards expecting to wake up and see New Zealand had advanced to another World Cup final. Instead, he saw England had pulled the upset, 19-7, to set the stage for Saturday's final against South Africa.
He thought he would be bragging about an inevitable third straight trophy for the All Blacks. Instead, Adams sat down with ESPN.com to discuss his rugby fandom, why he is rooting against England in the final and his thoughts on recent criticism of the haka.
How do you think the pressure of an NBA playoff game compares to what the players will face in the World Cup final?
I think it's the same. Because you have your external pressures, that's the media, fan base, the crowd. They're all still very much part of it. But the majority of the pressure comes from within. You kind of know what's at risk here. What's quite nice about when you're in the season, you can kind of mess up, but you still have another chance to bounce back or get better. No more chances here. That's why there's so much pressure. It's like, this is it. There's no bouncing back. You just have to live with whatever it is. That's usually the cracks of it.
So did you watch much of the World Cup and were you stunned to see New Zealand lost to England?
I think I was a bit cocky about this one. Because I was only just looking at the results. Keep up with just certain teams. I was keeping in touch with Japan, amazing that they positioned quite well. I was just looking at results because I was just like, "Ehh, I'll just watch it in the finals, mate. I'll just watch the All Blacks in the finals."
Exactly, mate. [Laughs.] But that's just me as a fan, as a Kiwi. I think most Kiwis were like that. I think they definitely would've watched it; the time zones are a bit easier for them. But I know that the players themselves, the All Blacks, they took it very seriously. They have a very high standard; their culture is amazing. So they wouldn't have felt entitled at all. They knew exactly what they were to do. But honestly, mate, England's been playing amazing too.
Are you surprised at how well England has played?
They've always been solid, but yeah, bro, they've been playing mean. They've just been playing real good. Real, real well -- which, good for them, mate. It's quite nice too in the bigger scope of things; it's good to throw a little spanner in the works. Because then it kind of gets a bit like, "Ehhh." It would be lame if it just stayed like that, because you need a bit more growth. You need competition.
Like maybe the United States and basketball?
Exactly. If there's one dominant team, let's say like, well, [the] Golden State [Warriors], they came in, took all those 3s, everybody else is now taking a whole jackload of 3s. You've just got to keep evolving the game.
Who do you think wins the final between South Africa and England?
I'm rooting for South Africa. When I was checking them out, it was back when they had, like, [Bryan] Habana. He's the man, Habana. That's the last time I remember them being crazy good. But I want them to win over England.
Have you gotten any of your teammates interested in rugby?
Whoever comes over to New Zealand, there's rugby on all the time. They'll watch it and be like, "Whoa, there's no pads? What the f---?" So there's always a little interest there. No one really gets the gist of it, because there's not enough games to watch. It's fun for me, though, just teaching what I know. I know very little, but it's enough.
The dude wanted a bit of a clickbait, so he got a clickbait. That's pretty much it. Back in the day, bro, you just do the Haka and walk right up to them at half-court or halfway and it was ridiculous. So now they've made that there's a five-meter mark. So there are rules now. But intimidation, it's like, yeah, mate, if you get intimidated, then that's cool. This is a long line of culture and representing your country, and this is how we embrace it. It's just what we do in New Zealand. It's part of the culture.
Do you feel like it was a misunderstanding of how much the Haka means culturally to New Zealand?
That's usually the case. The context of what it was saying was purely on performance. I don't think he was taking a stab or saying, "Ah, the culture is s---." It wasn't doing that. So you can't blend the two, because that's when people get upset. But it's not what the dude meant in the first place, not how I gathered it anyway. It was just that it's an unfair advantage because of the intimidation factor. And honestly mate, if you're looking at it within performance, you're like, "They're not doing anything, we'll do something, that's part of the rules." You can do one if you want, mate. You can try one too.
What did you think of England's approach to the Haka, forming a V across the field?
Each their own, bro. It doesn't matter, really. People like the New Zealand Haka because it's theatrics, it just looks cool as s---. It's intimidating, it's sick. Because you see a whole group of men, just working together as one. So, like, if England feels like that's their thing, then that's their thing. Cool. As a player, whatever brings you together, what makes you feel more bonded, then cool. Then that's your s---, mate. That's your s---. It's just ours is a bit more f---ing louder.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity