On a rainy Wednesday night in lower Manhattan, two-time NBA MVP and Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash darted through traffic while teammate Grant Hill and San Antonio's Tony Parker weaved through heavy crowds.
All three were wearing soccer cleats.
Three thousand fans stood, three deep, to watch Nash and a host of perennial NBA all-stars compete in The Showdown in Chinatown, a charity outdoor match on artificial turf whose proceeds benefit at-risk children in Arizona. Parker, Hill, and Nash scrambled and slide-tackled alongside professional soccer players that included Villareal's Giuseppe Rossi and Newcastle United striker Demba Ba. Nash captained his side to a 16-10 victory over Team Reyna, skippered by retired U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Claudio Reyna.
Nash and Reyna, both outspoken fans of the sport, see the annual Showdown not only as a way to help needy children, but also a way to expose more Americans to the game.
"These guys coming out and playing only helps," says Reyna, who spent 13 years abroad with some of the best clubs in Germany, Scotland, and England. "When I grew up, soccer wasn't cool. When I went to kick the ball around, I was seen as sort of a weirdo. Now, that's definitely not the case. In every town across America, kids are playing soccer."
As U.S. Soccer's youth technical director, Reyna oversees the development of players and coaches across the country. Six- to 12-year-olds are his top priority, and he's been working for the last 14 months on a curriculum for coaches and the 5 million young athletes they instruct.
As a lifelong supporter of the sport, Nash shares Reyna's enthusiasm about the sport's limitless growth potential.
"If you look at the sport in 10-year increments, it's incredible," says Nash. "Who would have thought 10 years ago that you'd see scores on the SportsCenter ticker? It's finally pervaded the mainstream."