While the media were huddled around Kenny Natt prior to a recent game against Toronto, it came up in the conversation that he has a long history with Canada. Despite not being born or raised here, he’s spent enough time here and built up enough relationships to have some cherished memories involving basketball and Canada.
His link to Canada started back when he was trying out for the Utah Jazz. His roommate was Jay Triano, the current head coach for the Toronto Raptors. Both players were trying to make the team and legend has it that if it wasn’t for John Stockton ending his long holdout towards the end of camp then Triano would have made the team.
“Jay (Triano) and I were both trying to make that Jazz team at that time,” Natt told the media while smiling at the fond memory. “I think we were roommates even at one time. Those are the things we’ve cherished over the years. Jay and I, to now be in our situations, we would have never had dreamed about being head coaches or coaching period in the league. Being head coaches this is a great opportunity for the both of us. He is a class act guy and deserving of the opportunity”
Besides trying out for the same NBA team, both men have earned a reputation for being hard workers. Natt has coached alongside some legends of the game in Jerry Sloan, Greg Popovich and Paul Silas, while Triano has built up his reputation by coaching the Canadian National Team and being part of the Toronto Raptors coaching staff for the past seven seasons.
“We have worked hard too earn where we are – nothing has been given to us,” Natt told the media with a mixture of pride and accomplishment in his voice. “We’ve earned it. I’ve been in the minor leagues and so has Jay. These are the opportunities that come around for people who word hard and I’m just happy for him.”
While Sacramento Kings fans will know about the coaching stops in the NBA, few will know about his resume before he joined Sloan’s staff back in 1995. Turns out he spent quite a bit of time in Canada before coaching in the NBA and endured a lot of long Canadian winters in the process.
“Jay coached for the Hamilton Skyhawks and I coached in Sydney, Nova Scotia, coaching in the World Basketball League. In the NDBL I coached many of games in Halifax, Toronto, Saskatchewan, you name it.”
While getting the chance to see most of the country it appears he fell in love with Canada along the way.
“I remember all of those great opportunities and the things that I really cherish a lot because I have experienced things that most of the guys and coaches in this league have not experienced,” Natt told the media while grinning ear-to-ear at the chance to reminisce. “That’s why I cherish where I am today and what I’m doing because I’ve been through the trenches and the hard times. But they’ve been fun times. One thing I want to say is I’ve always admired Canada. I’ve loved it! Being here the people are really nice and I often think about going back in the summer. In the winter it’s so cold as you know, but in the summer I’d like to vacation and spend time up here. It is special for me to be back here in Canada and coaching.”
Besides getting the chance to see a lot of Canada while coaching in the minor leagues, he built up a lifetime of experiences that help him value all the perks that come along with coaching in the NBA.
“It even goes back before there. I remember the CBA team the Toronto Tornados. I remember driving in a 15 passenger van – not a bus – from Albany, New York to here. With a bunch of guys all huddled up and then we’d get off the van and we’d go play. Earlier today someone was asking us about last night and yes, we played last night in Milwaukee, but we had a nice flight in and we slept in nice beds. Yes, we have an early game tonight, but hey, I’ve been in situations where we drive all night in the moonlight and then we get out and play. These guys can’t do that? They’re not tired, they can’t be.”
We live in an era where many coaches and players take forgranted all the riches and luxuries that are heaped upon them by playing a game they love. Because of that it was refreshing to spend some time listening to Natt talk on Sunday evening and hear somebody who appreciates the good fortune he has in being involved with the game he loves.
Hearing an American rave about Canada was just an added bonus.