TORONTO - Steve Nash says his eight NBA all-star appearances were both validation for hard work, and a rare chance to relax and have fun in the midst of a gruelling season.
But on a grand scale, the league's annual showcase gives those involved with global basketball something to come together around, he said, and "that to me, is the spirit of all-star weekend."
Nash, who retired last March after 19 years in the league, played the role of all-star booster on Tuesday as tickets for the celebrity game, the rising stars challenge, the all-star practice, and NBA Centre Court — a fanfest at Toronto's Enercare Centre — went on sale.
The 65th NBA all-star game will be played Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre.
It'll be the first time that the showcase will be played outside the United States, and is an "excellent moment for Canada and Toronto," proof the Raptors and Canadian basketball occupy an important spot in the NBA, Nash said.
"The growth of the game (in Canada) has been well-noted, and the Raptors organization is one that has turned the corner and gained the respect of the league," he added.
"All of our young players that have become NBA players, the growth of the game in our country and the Raptors success ... and, not just the success and respectability of the franchise, but also the way the country and, in particular Toronto, have gotten behind the team, it really is a magical moment for Canada and Toronto to host all-star."
There were a record-tying 12 NBA players from Canada on opening-night rosters this season, more than any other country outside the U.S. for the second consecutive year. And according to the league, viewership of NBA games in Canada has doubled on average across all networks over the past three seasons — an average increase of 54 per cent since 2012-13.
Before a back ailment derailed the better part of his final three seasons in the NBA, the 41-year-old Nash made eight all-star appearances: 2002-03, 2005-08, 2010 and 2012. One memorable moment was the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest in Denver, when his Phoenix Suns teammate Amare Stoudemire threw down a 360 alley-oop dunk off a soccer-style header from Nash.
"It was always just a marker of playing at a high level and to be recognized as one of the top players validated your hard work and (it) was an opportunity to motivate yourself to continue to play at that level," Nash said.
The all-star celebrity game goes Feb. 12 at Ricoh Coliseum and the rising stars challenge is the same night at Air Canada Centre. The all-star practice is set for the afternoon of Feb. 13 at Ricoh Coliseum and the all-star Saturday Night will be held that evening at Air Canada Centre.