Steven Adams from Rotorua to $60 million man

By Eugene Bingham, Ben Stanley

In just a few hours Kiwi basketball player star Steven Adams and his Oklahoma City teammates will tip off against the Golden State Warriors in the western conference finals series.

It's a huge game for underdogs Oklahoma and they will need their 2.13m tall Kiwi center to be on top of his game if they are to make the NBA finals.

It's Adams' biggest game so far and both his career and his size 19 feet will taker a big step up if they win. Not bad for a boy from Rotorua who used to wag school and get up to trouble.

Adams is, famously, a half brother of world shot put star Valerie Adams. Their father was Englishman, Sid, whose height has been estimated up to 2m.

Sid had 18 children (some say it is actually 21) with five women (some say it is actually six). Adams is the youngest. According to him, a reason Navy man Sid Adams moved to New Zealand was the teasing he received at home over being a "freak" who was so tall.

Sid died of stomach cancer aged 76 in 2006 when Steven was 13 - "worn down by life and battered from a car accident" as one story put it. Like Val Adams, Steven is half Tongan. Various reports say Adams' mother has not been a big part of his life.

"They say he was 7ft 1in," Adams said of his English-born father. "He played no sport really, he was in the navy, that's how he found New Zealand - he just fell in love with the place, stayed there, had a bunch of kids and ended up giving them amazing genes."

Adams remains close to his family, though it's hard keeping in touch with Valerie now, with their twin international sporting careers.

220306sp12 Rotorua's Sid Adams, father of Commonwealth gold medalist Valerie Vili, with his 12-year-old son Steven Adams. 22 March 2006 The Daily Post Photograph by Stephen Parker NZH 28Jun13 - P
220306sp12 Rotorua's Sid Adams, father of Commonwealth gold medalist Valerie Vili, with his 12-year-old son Steven Adams. 22 March 2006 The Daily Post Photograph by Stephen Parker NZH 28Jun13 - P

As incredible as it must be to have older siblings who've already blazed paths to sporting greatness, it's just another thing Adams takes in his stride.

"I don't know, it just seems normal to me, even with Valerie and stuff; you know gold medallist or whatever, I didn't think anything of it. I'm definitely proud of her and stuff but I just see her as a sister. That's how it's always been," Adams told the Herald
in 2013.

Of all his siblings, big brother Warren played a crucial role at a turning point in Steven's life. Basketball coach Doug Courtney had re-introduced 14-year-old Steven to the sport he'd first played in primary school. ("I sucked," Adams recalled of his early years on the court. "I was in the B team.") But Adams was up to no good. His father had died the year before and he was taking advantage of new-found freedom. Hanging out with mates, not going to school.

Warren decided the best thing that could happen was for him to put his little brother in the car and drive to Wellington to see Kenny McFadden.

An American who came to Wellington as an import player, McFadden had stayed on and established the New Zealand Basketball Academy. Warren had played with McFadden in the national basketball league so the American knew Steven's pedigree.

He took him on. But if Steven was serious, McFadden told him, he'd have to commit to training every morning at 6am before school. Soon, Adams was texting McFadden every night to make sure he'd get picked up at 5.30am. "He went for about four years straight where he never missed a training," McFadden said.

"Here was a kid who don't miss no trainings, is energetic, enthusiastic and had tunnel vision."

Steven Adams with sister Valerie Adams. Photo / Twitter
Steven Adams with sister Valerie Adams. Photo / Twitter

But it was what was going on away from the court, too that had perhaps a more significant impact. When he arrived in Wellington, Adams was struggling to read and write. McFadden had told him if he wanted to make it in the United States, he was going to have to earn a college scholarship. And even basketball scholars needed good grades.

Another powerful trait that has got Adams where he is today is that he's a fast learner. He didn't need McFadden to give him the message twice. Adams enrolled at the private Scots College and knuckled down, even if it took a bit of adjusting. It's a gentrified place, where the students wear blazers for uniforms - a lanky kid from the streets of Rotorua was bound to stand out.

"When he put the suit on for the first time and walked into Scots College, I thought about the Fresh Prince of Bel Air," said McFadden.

Indeed, just like the Will Smith character of that 1990s TV classic comedy, Adams had smarts - not just street smarts but raw intelligence too. His grades turned around.

And those rough edges were being lovingly smoothed off him too. A family friend, Blossom Cameron, had taken Adams into her home, eventually becoming his legal guardian.

Adams admits she had a lot of work to do - teaching him life skills, hygiene, diet and dress sense, all things which were missing when he arrived on her doorstep.

"My English would be just like partly swearing all the time. I was rugged, man. I was a mess. I was hori-as, like 'wassup?'. I didn't even notice until I heard myself on a past video and it was like, 'what the hell'?

But with Cameron, McFadden, and Scots College in support roles, Adams was primed for success when a coach from the University of Pittsburgh, Jamie Dixon (who had played in New Zealand as an import himself) came to Wellington to scout for talent.

McFadden pointed out Adams and Dixon was convinced he'd found raw talent with NBA potential.

That's Steve Adams for you; the rising NBA superstar with a bottle of L&P in his locker room, having a friendly dig at his Olympic champion sister. Photo / Getty Images
That's Steve Adams for you; the rising NBA superstar with a bottle of L&P in his locker room, having a friendly dig at his Olympic champion sister. Photo / Getty Images

Fast forward to today and Adams is repaying the faith shown in him.

"Watch any big, signature play of Oklahoma City's win and you're likely to find Adams off to the side and nearly out of frame, having set the screen or triggered the roll that made it all possible," Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney wrote of the Kiwi's performance against the San Antonio Spurs earlier in the season.

They are words that could be applied to every appearance by Adams this NBA play-off series, in a season that has seen the 22-year-old move forward in leaps and bounds.

In the game 4 111-97 win, Adams notched a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. He repeated the act in Game 5 , notching 12 points and 11 rebounds as the Thunder beat the Spurs again.

That win, coupled with two further victories against the Spurs, propelled the Thunder into the Western Conference finals against Golden State.

The stats also don't tell you how well he linked up with superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and how his absolute physicality and back court anticipation removed future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan from making any meaningful impact.

"He's finishing. He's defending. He's rebounding," Durant said of Adams.

"The coaches told him what his role is, and he's just embracing it and taking the challenge every night."

Has it really been just three years since Adams went from a raw "one-and-done" college draft flyer with some Rotorua grit in his background, to a key player with 70s-style facial furniture on a title challenger, who is now being recognised as one of the best big men in the NBA?

You'd better believe it.

Highly respected American basketball writer Chris Mannix described Adams as a "top-10(ish), 10-year starter at centre" earlier this week, while ESPN correspondent Royce Young told RadioSport that the Kiwi should be in line for a four-year, US$60 million ($88 million) contract when he re-signs with the Thunder - or tests free agency after next season. Such a salary would put Adams among the top 30 NBA earners.

While talk of a big money deal makes Adams uncomfortable - "I don't even think about it, bro" - the figure would easily make him NZ's highest-paid sportsperson.

Steven Adams goes up for a dunk. Photo / AP
Steven Adams goes up for a dunk. Photo / AP

Spurs point guard Patty Mills has watched Adams' growth from across the court, and believes the Kiwi is worth the praise.

"His presence as a big man has been great," Mills told the Herald earlier this month.

"He's been a force to consider, for every team that comes up against him - especially us. He's done so well against us, over his time developing. Certainly in this play-off series, he's been able to be almost that quarterback once he catches the ball in the paint and make great decisions.

"You just keep seeing him develop as time goes. It's exciting to know a Kiwi is representing his country well."

The first thing you notice when you see Adams on the court is the sheer length of his body.

Though he's renowned at the Thunder for his unbelievable appetite, he is a lean, long human being whose on-court movements look like exaggerations due to his size.

The size belies Adams' eagerness to enjoy himself. He's still the lad, in that respect; joking around with fellow players, coaches, media or basically anyone who cares to talk.

He's a natural kidder with a deep streak of the ironic in the way he phrases things; a trait that has come through in the media and impressed his superstar teammates.

Westbrook even went as far as dressing like Adams - Funaki tattoo and all - at the club's Halloween party last year. At training the morning before Game 4, Adams joked with Nazr Mohammed and Enes Kantner as they practised defensive drills.

But as soon as Mohammed - an 18-season NBA veteran - wanted to draw attention to a particular way of screening, Adams shut up and watched intently. Thirty minutes later, Adams was the last player on the practice court, still working on his free throw - easily the weakest aspect of his game - as the bulging play-off media pack waited for him.

Though the play-offs bring a heightened level of media attention, Adams has a constant profile in Oklahoma City, who lack any other pro-sports teams.

Ask anyone in the sports bars or on the street about Adams, and you'll get the same comments. "We love him." "We don't want him to leave." "He's such a funny guy."

Steven Adams wears an All Blacks jersey he was given at a media and fan signing session. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Steven Adams wears an All Blacks jersey he was given at a media and fan signing session. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Ours is a pride of seeing one of our own carving it up on the big stage. But in Oklahoma City, his character is really woven into the fabric and feeling of the city.

It's a heavy gig, all that attention, but Adams takes it in his stride. "You get used to it, bro," he says. "I had to step back a little my first year, my rookie season, because I wasn't used to it. But you get used to it."

The main thing you pick up from Adams, be it on the practice courts, in a game or in front of a media scrum: he isn't drawn into the hype or swagger of the NBA.

To him, he's just doing his job, as are the blokes around him. Asked if watching Durant play out of this world - as he did with his 17 points in the final quarter of Game 4 - impressed him at all, Adams just shrugged in return. "Nah, bro - been around him too long," he says.

Durant and Westbrook might be superstars to the rest of the world, but to Adams, they're just workmates - and the hubris is just hubris.

"I think I've matured," Adams said. "And that's just because of my teammates. Like old mate Nick Collison there just constantly guiding me through life. Yep, through life's troubles and all that. On and off the court, bro, we have a good group of guys who make sure that we're all good."

Adams remains in regular contact with his Olympic shot-put champion sister Val, though admits theirs is more of a "normal sister-brother banter" relationship than two top-level athletes leaning on each other for guidance.

"That's all it is - nothing crazy, like no life-changing advice if that's what you want to know. I wouldn't want it from her, anyway."

That's Steve Adams for you; the rising NBA superstar with a bottle of L&P in his locker room, having a friendly dig at his Olympic champion sister.

World famous in New Zealand, and a few other places too, it seems.

The rise of Adams

Born in Rotorua on July 20, 1993

2.13m tall and weighs 116kg

Is the half-brother of double Olympic shot-put champion Valerie Adams

Hung out with Rotorua street gangs before being taken under older brother and former Tall Black Warren Adams' wing and moving to Wellington

Educated at Wellington's Scots College before moving to America to study at Notre Dame Prep

Picked in the 2013 draft by Oklahoma City Thunder, becoming the first Kiwi to be selected in the draft's first round

Helped OKC to the 2013 Orlando Summer League title

Was named in the 2013-14 NBA All-Rookie second team

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 26 Oct 2016 20:25:22 Processing Time: 683ms