Steve Nash believes Kobe Bryant is ahead of schedule in his recovery from Achilles’ surgery, is hopeful that the Los Angeles Lakers will finally find the chemistry they lacked a year ago and is finding himself fueled by the memories of an injury-filled season.
On Tuesday, however, basketball won’t be his sport of choice.
The two-time NBA MVP gets to become a soccer player again — if only briefly.
The Lakers guard who grew up playing soccer and still has deep ties within the sport will have a tryout of sorts with Inter Milan, before the storied team opens play in the Guinness International Champions Cup tournament that’s coming to the U.S. next week. The tournament features eight club teams from around the world, with a winner to be crowned in Miami Gardens, Fla. on Aug. 7.
“It’s a dream come true to get a chance to try out, not just to try out but to take the field with Inter Milan, one of the great, storied franchises in professional sports,” Nash said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I feel like a little kid.”
Tournament officials said the tryout will take place in New Jersey, two days before Inter Milan opens its portion of the Guinness event in Indianapolis against Chelsea. And Nash expects to be feeling a fairly ramped-up level of nervousness when he laces up his cleats for that training session.
“It’s going to be a lot higher than it is playing basketball, for sure,” Nash said. “I still get nervous for basketball games from time to time. When I get out on the court, I don’t get nervous, but before. To go out there with guys that I look up to and watch play, it’s definitely going to raise the nerves. I’ll be really nervous and really excited.”
The tournament begins Saturday when AC Milan visits Valencia. Juventus and Everton meet Wednesday in another first-round game, with the other opening matchups being the Inter-Chelsea game and Real Madrid taking on the L.A. Galaxy on Thursday.
The European clubs are primarily using the event as preseason training and the matches will allow for many more substitutions than normal, as is common with exhibition matches.
“Guinness has kind of taken it to another level by making a tournament out of it,” Nash said. “There’s stakes involved. For Guinness to bring seven of the world’s biggest clubs over and play with the Galaxy, that’s phenomenal exposure for the game and it’ll help grow the game in North America.”
Nash played soccer and hockey as a child before starting his basketball career as an eighth-grader, primarily because most of his friends at the time were spending more time taking corner jumpers than corner kicks. His father, John, played professional soccer in South Africa and England, and Nash remains an avid soccer fan and is part of the ownership group for the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer.
As far as his “real job” goes, Nash said he’s encouraged for the coming NBA season. He’s working his way back to being 100 percent physically. His first season with the Lakers was an injury-filled one, where he was limited to 50 games because of a broken left leg and a strained right hamstring.
“I’ve had a really good summer of training and rehabilitating,” Nash said. “I’m not 100 percent, but I’m pretty close. Good enough to go out there Tuesday. I’m thrilled I’ve had this time to build myself back up, and I believe I’ll have a great year.”
Last season was a struggle for the Lakers, and the offseason hasn’t exactly been tranquil, either. Dwight Howard left Los Angeles for Houston, Bryant has been working his way through rehabilitation for his Achilles’, and the Lakers added new pieces like Chris Kaman, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson.
“We’re all just excited for another opportunity,” Nash said. “We’ve got some terrific players coming off of difficult seasons. I know Pau Gasol after his injuries, Kobe’s coming off a difficult injury, I was injured for the better part of the season. The three of us are eager to get back out there and there’s other guys, Jordan Hill, Steve Blake, who missed a lot of time last year.
“We’re excited to see what we can make of ourselves. We really are going to try for the second consecutive year to find chemistry and identity, but we’re excited for it, so we’ll see.”
Nash said he isn’t letting go of the bad memories from last season, using them instead as motivation for the coming year.
And when the new season starts, he said he wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Bryant — who tore his Achilles’ tendon in April — not just ready, but raring to go.
“I don’t think he’d have it any other way,” Nash said. “I know he’s very focused and determined and he plans to come back as strong as ever, probably in record time.”