Toby & Toby on... Steven Adams, NBA star and the greatest NZer ever

9:52 am on 1 June 2016

Is Steven Adams the greatest NZer ever?

No. But he is making sufficient a splash that one American journalist, watching Adams' side the Oklahoma City Thunder play the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference final series, was moved to ask on Twitter: "Is Steven Adams the greatest person in NZ history?" After New Zealanders inundated him with earnest responses, he concluded that Lord Rutherford was probably greater.

Plenty of time for Adams to surpass him, though.

That's true. He's only 22 after all.

And he's already the greatest player in the NBA.

Not quite. The seven-foot New Zealander certainly surged into public view of the latter part of the season, with his performances in the play-offs attracting home-town fervour, moustachioed tributes, and global media attention. But while it's safe to say he has established himself as one of the most impressive and fearsome centres in the league, he doesn't come close to the celebrity status accorded his team-mates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Still, our Steve's off to fight for the biggest prize in world basketball!

No. The Thunder lost yesterday in Oakland, squandering a 3-1 lead in the series to give the Warriors - which as well as the league's most valuable player, Steph Curry, include an Australian, Andrew Bogut - a 4-3 victory and a place in the finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Oh. So New Zealand's fleeting obsession threw it away against an Oracle-sponsored American opposition featuring a bolshie Australian in the Bay Area?

At a push, maybe.

A bay of broken dreams!

Um.

Is it true that Steven Adams has several hundred siblings?

Steven's father, British navy man Sid, had 18 children (at least) by five different women (at least). But that's still a lot of brothers and sisters, including, famously, the double Olympic gold medallist Valerie, who shares her half-brother's height and insouciant sense of humour.

Is it true that Steven Adams was born in a geyser?

No. Where did you get this stuff?

Just talking to the guys, shooting some hoops, you know how it is.

Steven, the youngest of Sid's super-kids, was born in Rotorua. After Sid died, 13-year-old Steve started getting into trouble, mixing with gangs, and what have you. An older half-brother, Warren - a New Zealand representative basketballer - drove him down to Wellington, where he was put in the care of fitness trainer and "fairy godmother" Blossom Cameron.

Blossom!

She sounds pretty amazing. And he was taken under others' wings, including Scots College, and Exchequer Saints legend Kenny McFadden.

Exchequer Saints?

The Saints are Wellington's basketball side, who once boasted the super-cool American émigré Kenny, and were sponsored for many years by the now defunct nightclub Exchequer's. Those were the days.

Were they?

They really were.

And young Steven?

He excelled, and ended up playing a year of college basketball at Pittsburgh in 2012-2013 before going pro with the Thunder. This season he has shown his true potential, capturing fans' imaginations, and is likely next season to start earning the sort of money that will make him comfortably New Zealand's best paid sportsperson.

Lots of endorsement money, too, presumably?

Presumably, but the only endorsement of any consequence is for Handmade La Conner moustache wax, which keeps his Magnum-PI-inspired face sculpture in shape and delivers a scent of oakmoss and whiskey with a hint of roseweed essential oil.

And on the court?

For starters, he's accumulated a swag of double doubles.

Double doubles. Are they pairs of fans who paint his tattoo on their arms and wear fake moustaches?

No. A double double is when a player chalks up a double-digit number in two of five statistical categories, typically points and rebounds.

How else did he capture the imagination?

There was a lot of impressive hurling around of the body, a bullet pass or two, and, especially, his tussle with the Warriors' Draymond Green, who twice kicked Adams in the groin, only for the steel-balled Kiwi to strike back with a face-thwacking slam dunk that left Green looking sheepish.

Is face-thwacking a technical term?

Yes.

Anything else?

Despite gaining a reputation as a "dirty player" who gets his elbows involved in the game, Adams has endeared himself to Oklahoma City fans, and NBA followers more broadly, with his down-to-earth, unfamiliar New Zealand style and candour.

You mean he doesn't come across as a PR-polished automaton?

Pretty much.

Is it inevitable that over time he'll turn into an asshole?

It's always possible but we think he'll be sweet.

How come Adams hasn't played for the Tall Blacks?

He's focused on the NBA, and while some have theorised that he turned down the chance to play for the New Zealand team because of McFadden's relationship with administrators, that is probably far-fetched, and it seems likely he'll play for NZ before too long.

What does Steven Adams like?

Steven Adams likes Tom Selleck, basketball, the Dalai Lama, Turkish food, other food, and just food generally.

What doesn't Steven Adams like?

Steven Adams doesn't like $40 haircuts, migraines, bread, and Australians bowling underarm.

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* This column is part of a weekly series published every Wednesday, by graphic artist Toby Morris and journalist Toby Manhire.