New Zealand's highest-paid sportsman gave Helen Clark high praise at an awards night in Auckland last week.

Steven Adams, the 24-year-old centre of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team, was spotted with Clark at the Woman of Influence awards last Thursday night.

Adams' tweeted: "Love you Aunty," alongside a photo of him towering over Clark.

Clark, who on the night received a Lifetime Achievement Award, said it was a pleasure to meet Adams.

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"A pleasure to meet Steven Adams, NZ professional basketball player in Auckland last week. Steve made my 172cm look short! "

Adams has been in NZ with teammates from Oklahoma City Thunder.

"I feel good when I bring people over who are pretty much my family in America now, and teach them about New Zealand and get them to experience what I experienced growing up."

His trip has included a golf tournament in Auckland and children's training camps in Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington, each of which drew at least 500 basketball-mad kids.

The life so far of Steven Adams, who is of Tongan and English descent and counts double Olympic gold medalist Valerie Adams among his 17 siblings, is the quintessential rags-to-riches story.

The teenage Adams went off the rails after the death of his father, an older brother eventually rescuing him from the streets of Rotorua and getting him a place in a Wellington basketball academy.

In 2013 he was selected by Oklahoma City Thunder, making him the first Kiwi chosen in the first round of an NBA draft.

In 2016 he was awarded a four-year, US$100 million ($138m) contract extension, which works out at $34.5m a year.