The hottest pickup game in New York City is supposed to take place at famed Rucker Park, but there won’t be a game that sizzles more than Steve Nash’s “Showdown in Chinatown” tonight.
Now entering its fifth year, the “Showdown” brings together many of the top sports stars in the world not for a game of pickup basketball, but for soccer. Held at Sarah D. Roosevelt Park on Chrystie Street and Stanton Street, the event benefits The Steve Nash Foundation and features both soccer stars and Nash’s NBA buddies playing in what he terms a “pro-amateurial” match.
“It’s a concept we developed a few years ago with my friends Simone Sandri and Venanzio Ciampa. Lots of soccer players are NBA fans and vice-versa,” Nash told Metro New York. “I play a lot of soccer in the summer in the New York parks and it just seemed natural to bring together these great athletes for what has become a unique sporting event.”
Nash grew up playing and watching soccer (his father is an avid supporter of the England Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspurs) and his brother Martin is a former professional player who made 38 appearances with the Canadian national team. The “Showdown” has become a part of New York City’s sports calendar, with fans lining up outside the event hours beforehand to get a good view along the sidelines and more intrepid spectators climbing trees and the chain link fence to watch the stars play.
Four years ago, now Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry played in the game and while his in-season commitments in MLS will keep him from lacing up, he plans on showing up to the event.
“It’s a good thing and at the end of the day Steve is doing a great thing in the community and I want to support that,” Henry told Metro New York. “I won’t play but I want to go there and show my face and support Steve doing something great. I enjoy it.”
Part of the enjoyment of the event is the laidback approach to the game, where the soccer pros routinely participate in one-upmanship and go for the spectacular to draw cheers from the crowd. On the flip side there is the comic relief of watching the 6-foot-11 Chris Bosh trying to dribble a ball not with his hands but his feet. Henry remembers that moment, watching Bosh trip over his own feet and calling it “funny.”
This year, Metro New York has learned that a star-studded cast of celebrity athletes will be on hand, including Salomon Kalou, of Champions League winners Chelsea, United States international midfielder Maurice Edu and NBA star Grant Hill, among others. Nash is also expecting “a few last-minute surprises” to this year’s roster.
“It’s a great opportunity to spend time with athletes of a different sport that we respect so much. Everybody who participates in ‘Showdown’ — both NBA and soccer players — end up having a great time. For me, obviously, growing up such an avid soccer fan, it’s just a great opportunity to share the field with some of the greats of the sport,” Nash said. “But it is a lot of fun for NBA players who maybe don’t know the sport so well. For example, a couple of years ago Nate Robinson came and played soccer for the first time in his life, instantly falling in love with the sport and showing great skills too.”
Follow Red Bulls beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for news and updates from practices and games.