Nash coming home to the hardcourt - The Province

Suns-Blazers tilt follows just weeks after star's charity footie game BY MARC WEBER Lawrie Johns says the timing couldn't be better. Two years after playing an NBA exhibition game against the Seattle Sonics at GM Place, Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns are returning to Vancouver to take on the Portland Trail Blazers. The preseason game will take place on Oct. 22; tickets go on sale Aug. 8 through Ticketmaster. Wednesday's announcement came along with confirmation of Nash's Showdown in Downtown charity soccer game set for Sept. 19 at David Lam Park in Yaletown. "I think it's perfect timing," Johns, Basketball BC's director of youth development, said of the NBA's exhibition return. "In the two years since the last game here, I'd guess that we've had 3,000-4,000 kids join Steve Nash Youth Basketball that weren't here before." Johns used to organize 20 to 25 busloads of kids for trips down to Seattle to see Nash and the Suns take on the Sonics. The Sonics, though, moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season. "I'm sure our young kids will be out there in droves, and there'll be lots of kids there who've never seen Steve play," Johns added. That's part of what makes Nash so happy about playing an NBA game in Vancouver. But his feelings go beyond the 5-to-13-year-olds, who Johns said Nash sometimes refers to as "my kids." Victoria-raised Nash has continually expressed his sympathy for Grizzlies fans, whose team skipped town in 2001. And he has selfish reasons, too. "It's very special," the two-time NBA MVP said of returning to Vancouver to play a game. "It's very disappointing that the Grizzlies no longer play in Vancouver. I felt in some ways that I was robbed of a special experience, a special connection. And I feel really bad for the fans in Vancouver. I felt they did a tremendous job of supporting the franchise." Wednesday offered up a double dose of delight for Nash fans, as he also firmed up some details around his Showdown in Downtown charity soccer game. Nash ran his Charity Classic basketball game in Vancouver in 2006 and '07, but cancelled the event after attendance went from a sellout to 12,000. The soccer game is something fresh, he said, and there's also the small matter of him being part-owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps' Major League Soccer franchise, set to begin play in 2011. He's run the free, urban-set soccer game in New York's Chinatown for two years, attracting the likes of Barcelona striker Thierry Henry. The Vancouver game, however, will be heavier on NBA names and lighter on soccer stars due to the timing. "We had a great run with the three Classics," Nash said (the first Charity Classic ran in Toronto in 2005). "I think the bottom line is this one is much more deliverable. We have some more freedom here. "It's a natural fit for me to take it to Vancouver. Let's bring them something new." Houston Rockets centre Yao Ming -- the first to commit to Nash -- won't play due to his foot injury, but Nash is hopeful the Chinese superstar will still be in attendance. L.A. Clippers' Baron Davis and Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo are confirmed, and Nash said he's working on a few retired soccer friends, including a World Cup winner. The Whitecaps residency team will be involved, too, likely forming one of the eight-a-side teams. Nash will also play alongside his Whitecaps-playing brother Martin, who was spotted in the New York game racing back to clear a ball off the goal line. "All these stars show up and I think they have that attitude [that it's simply a fun, charity game] until they get on the park," said Steve. "It quickly turns into a serious affair, but everyone's got a smile on their face. That's an amazing situation. "So, I'll be on him [Martin] if he doesn't hustle back and clear one off the line." © Copyright (c) The Province