More than a decade ago, I found myself in an awkward situation as a parent coaching an intermediate schoolgirls' representative cricket team in Hawke's Bay.

I had a talented youngster who had all the attributes of a good bowler but finding her way to training and games on the weekend was a challenge.

Her family in Flaxmere, Hastings, didn't have a vehicle so I put my hand up to pick her from home and drop her off.

But one day she made herself unavailable for a camp tournament.


After some cajoling, the softly spoken girl revealed her family couldn't afford to buy her cricket whites but her mother had contacted social welfare and, if I filled out a couple of forms and signed it, the department was going to fork out money for her to buy the gear.

I did and she played, using the rest of the team bats, gloves and limp pads, which in those were usually hand-me-down, oversized discards that boys' teams didn't want.

I don't know where the girl is now or what she does but, sadly, I suspect she never played cricket at any serious level again.

About now I wish to bring in Steven Adams into the picture and his stance in not wanting to play for the Tall Blacks because of the way Basketball New Zealand treated him and other peers as they pursued age-group representative and national honours.

"I hate to think how many guys I played with who could have had careers in basketball if they're just given more help (like I was) when they were young ... there were a lot of players, most of them brown, some of them the best in the country, who never once represented New Zealand because they couldn't afford to trial, let alone to fly overseas," says Adams.

The 25-year-old Rotorua-born is a Oklahoma City Thunder professional basketballer who commands a four-year, US$100 million ($148m) contract.

In his book, Steven Adams — My Life, My Fight, he explains for the first time why he hasn't slipped on a Tall Blacks singlet but one day would like to play for coach Paul Henare.

I speculated on why he was reluctant not long after he made it into the lucrative National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States.


My hunch was because of the scant minutes he had received under the Sal's Pizza National Basketball League (NBL) in New Zealand. I was off the scent there because I hadn't seen him feature much in the time I covered NBL.

But people's perception of Adams' snub is a red herring.

Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams' stance against Basketball New Zealand transcends any acts of patriotism. Photo / Photosport
Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams' stance against Basketball New Zealand transcends any acts of patriotism. Photo / Photosport

His political stance transcends any acts of patriotism or, for that matter, any sense of loyalty to the hand that feeds him.

I'm not for a second suggesting either act is trivial because professionalism demands that when you acquire Adams' status.

I'd like to think the 2.13m centre stands head and shoulders above all that in driving home a message to his country on what constitutes a Kiwi.

Are they those who put their arms across their chests to sing God Defend New Zealand while fighting back tears?

You see, it is easy to get caught up in a wave of nationalistic fervour at the top end of one's career.

The former, one-season Cigna Wellington Saints player had to play the game of life in chasing his dreams.

For someone who had lost his father at 13, Adams worked 16-hour days to fit in two basketball trainings while swotting at school.

For many youngsters from lower socio-economic backgrounds the support network isn't often a given, never mind a fiscal one to realise their potential.

Nothing could possibly be more soul crushing than missing out on a game or trip at the higher echelons, knowing peers got selected because they fronted up with money.

You don't have to go too deep into research to pull out names of sports people who had financial backers, scholarships, wealthy family members and what have you to compete all the way to the Olympic Games but came away with little or nothing to show for.

Frankly, there ought to be some sort of selection police that prevents people from buying their way into elite teams.

Children who come from pedigree backgrounds tend to have an easier passage to selection because they have access to resources or, in some cases, purely because of not just who you know but who knows you.

Establishing academies also is a noble gesture because some of them teach youngsters life skills, not just how to find love with the hoop, thanks to funds obtained from sponsors.

But what happens to the talented once they leave the academies? Forking out thousands of dollars to stay in the age-group representative mix remains.

Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams high-fiving with youngsters makes him the tallest of the Tall Blacks without having slipped on the team's singlet. Photo / NZME
Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams high-fiving with youngsters makes him the tallest of the Tall Blacks without having slipped on the team's singlet. Photo / NZME

Adams' stance isn't limited to basketball because that sort of thing has been prevalent in myriad codes.

"Being in a national team is far too expensive for most kids — me included," says Adams in his book on sale now.

That beacons, such Kenny McFadden, came into Adam's life in times of darkness are often passed off as luck. The truth is good sorts aren't a byproduct of chance.

Like many fans and patriots, I hear Corey Webster when he points out on social media that his mother makes "a great point".

"We all have reasons to be pissed at Basketball NZ but it's not about playing for BBNZ. It's about playing for our country, the NZ kids who look up to us, our families and our Tallblacks brothers!!!" Webster tweets.

It must be a painful thought knowing the presence of Adams can change not only Webster but other incumbent Tall Blacks' lives in a bid to emulate the feat of coach Tab Baldwin's 2002 Fiba World Championship side, if not eclipse it.

Success will elevate and promote New Zealand beyond hoops heaven but will it override the need for this country to recognise the disparities that prevail between the haves and have-nots at grassroots level in sport?

Adams returning home off-season to exchange high fives, between clinics, with children will have more impact than if he were to take the Tall Blacks to the top again.

It's also much bigger than any Basketball NZ snub.

Now, Adams is the tallest Tall Black of them all who will never have to slip on the singlet to prove to me he is one.