How Steve Nash and Owen Hargreaves fulfilled each other's dreams
Updated 8:09 AM ET, Thu November 17, 2016
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- Canada-born duo followed each other's careers
- Nash won two NBA MVP awards
- Hargreaves is two-time Champions League winner
- Nash part-owner of Spanish soccer team
London (CNN)One was a basketball fanatic who became an international soccer star.
The other dreamed of being a football great, and is bound for basketball's Hall of Fame.
Steve Nash and Owen Hargreaves are two of Canada's greatest sporting exports who made their names on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
But through a passion for each other's sports -- along with kindred, crisscrossing pasts -- the two have formed a sporting bromance for the ages.
Hargreaves, the younger of the two, was a scrappy high school point guard who dreamed of playing for the Chicago Bulls, while Nash was so crafty with his feet that he was named British Columbia's most valuable high school soccer player as a lanky 16-year-old.
Yet it was Nash, of course, who would blossom into the NBA's two-time Most Valuable Player with the Phoenix Suns, while Hargreaves was winning bookend European titles with Bayern Munich and Manchester United.
Two sides of the same coin
Although the two met only after their careers took off, both standouts grew up in Western Canada as sports-obsessed sons of English soccer players.
Nash made his NBA mark in 1998, as a dynamic counterpart to Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. It was during his six-year spell in Texas that he heard about a young Canadian soccer player who was making waves in Germany, and through a mutual family friend invited him to attend a Mavs game.
Hargreaves, who like Nash is a dual British-Canadian citizen, was breaking into the England squad and reciprocated with World Cup tickets.
"I would have loved to have been Steve, because I would have loved to have been an NBA player," Hargreaves told CNN before this year's annual NBA game in London, where the 35-year-old soccer television analyst is a fixture.
"We connected because we are basically opposites: I grew up in a football family, but wanted to be a basketball player," he explains, noting that he wore number 23 on his jersey throughout his career at Bayern in honor of his hero Michael Jordan.
Nash, in turn, says he found inspiration in watching soccer players excel during his 18-season Hall of Fame career, which ended last year.
"I was a big fan of Owen's," the 42-year-old Nash tells CNN. "Obviously, it was phenomenal to hear of a Canadian kid who was making the ranks of Bayern Munich.
"To watch him go on to Manchester United and win Champions Leagues in both countries, and to have the career that he did representing England ... It was thrilling for all of us Canadians."
Nash even tried to recruit Hargreaves to play for the Vancouver Whitecaps, the MLS team he partially owns, towards the end of the midfielder's career -- which was cut short by knee injuries.
But Hargreaves preferred to stay in England, launching stalled comebacks with Manchester United and Manchester City before retiring at 31.
"The thing I like about Steve is he was such an amazing athlete, but he's such a great guy as well," Hargreaves reciprocates. "I like that people can be big stars and still be humble. Steve was a great example."
It's no secret that Nash is equally as enamored with soccer as Hargreaves is with hoops.
As a fan he watches a lot more footie than he does basketball, even though he is contracted with the Golden State Warriors as a special consultant and is the general manager of Canada's men's team.
A quick skim through Nash's Instagram feed confirms his soccer obsession.
He stars in a Venice Beach league which features the likes of ex-pros Alessandro Del Piero and Landon Donovan, organizes a celebrity charity game in New York going on its 10th year, trains with his beloved Tottenham Hotspur, and rubs shoulders with the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry.
Nash has also taken his role as a club owner a step further with an active investment in Spanish second division team Real Mallorca.
The resident of Manhattan Beach, California has made several trips to the Mediterranean island, known more as the birthplace of tennis ace Rafael Nadal.
"We love the sport. We have fallen in love with the history of the club and the fans," Nash says on behalf of his investment group, led by Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver.
"This is something that we are passionate about and want to see succeed."
Despite his involvement in the club's boardroom, it's hard not to wonder whether something gnaws at Nash for diverting from the path of Hargreaves, or his own brother Martin, who made 38 appearances for the Canadian national team and captained the Whitecaps.
"The competitor in me thinks that if I dedicated myself the way I did with basketball, I could have been a professional (soccer) player," he says, although he still can't quite admit that the ship has already sailed.
"The dream is still alive; I'm not going to give up on it just yet," he says, perhaps reconsidering his teenage decision to spurn an offer to join Canada's national under-17 soccer team.
By his own admission, Hargreaves -- who is generously listed at 5 foot 11 inches to Nash's 6 foot 3 -- says Nash was a far better soccer prospect than he was on the hardwood.
He assesses a young Nash's chances of making it in the English Premier League as high, though "not as a two-time MVP-level player."
Unlikely path in an unlikely sport
As a 12-year-old, Nash showed enough promise that his father John, a former professional in South Africa, offered to send him to live with his aunt in London to latch on to the youth club at Tottenham.
But Nash, who was also exceptional in hockey and baseball, found the prospect of moving to a strange city too daunting. Instead, he switched to a new school in Victoria and joined the other jocks playing pickup hoops.
"Really, I started playing basketball for social reasons," he recalls. But Nash's hyper-competitiveness soon took over and he outgrew his surroundings.
At 16 he told his coach at Mount Douglas Secondary School that he was aiming for a scholarship to an American Division I college program, only to be informed he needed to "readjust his goals," according to the book "Steve Nash: The Making of an MVP."
Nash switched schools instead.
Although league rules forced him to sit out a season, he returned as a senior and averaged a near-triple-double at St. Michaels University School. Still, the skinny Canadian kid was rejected by nearly every Division I program he approached.
Only tiny Santa Clara University offered Nash a full scholarship, and was rewarded by big-time upsets over UCLA and Arizona. Nash would lead his conference in scoring and assists, before being picked just two slots behind Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA Draft.
Nash's past, he says, made all those no-look passes for easy buckets possible.
"In soccer, you already have to know what you are doing before the ball comes to you, so you've calculated your options," he explains. "A lot of kids growing up playing basketball, they don't think like that. They have the ball, then they survey.
"I think it gave me an advantage to have seen thousands of angles, and players moving, and reading defenses, and making decisions on the soccer field."
'You did what your Dad did'
Hargreaves, meanwhile, credits fighting for a spot on his high school basketball team for later asserting himself in an unfamiliar sport.
His father Colin played soccer semi-professionally in Calgary, and brother Darren was set to play for English team Bolton Wanderers before tearing up his knee, leaving young Owen as the next big hope.
"I played soccer because my Dad played, and you did what your Dad did," he shrugs.
Hargreaves cared so little for the sport, in fact, that he didn't even have a favorite team. "It wasn't on TV at the time," he recalls, "so I watched basketball."
Growing up in Alberta, where it was so cold he could only practice soccer twice a week, Hargreaves hit the indoor basketball courts for five hours a day instead.
As an undersized point guard, he struggled at first -- "I wasn't very good at it; I could barely shoot," he confesses -- but earned respectability on the court.
"Because I worked so hard at getting good at basketball, when I took that competitiveness and applied it to soccer -- where I was more naturally gifted -- it actually helped me so much," he says, sounding a lot like Nash.
Given that Hargreaves only began playing soccer competitively at 15, it's remarkable that just one year later he landed a spot on Bayern's youth team and moved to Germany.
As a 19-year-old, he debuted as one of the first three Canadians -- all on the same day -- to ever play in the Bundesliga. He is also one of only seven English players to have played in Germany's top division.
"Listen, I never expected to be a professional soccer player -- never in a million years -- because it just wasn't possible really," Hargreaves says.
"And then you just go over one hurdle. And then you go over another one, and another one, and it just builds up your confidence."
Hargreaves' "welcome to world football" moment took place that rookie year when he stripped the ball from Real Madrid star Luis Figo, who he idolized.
"I remember thinking 'It's Luis Figo, he's going to kill me,'" he says. "That gave me more confidence than anything I had ever had, because I realized he's actually just like me."
In many ways, he could say the same about Nash. Through the most improbable mirroring turns, both athletes took their dreams to the highest levels in sports which came secondary to them.
These days, Hargreaves seems content with watching his Chicago Bulls from afar as an NBA superfan, while Nash is giving soccer one more go from the owners' box.
The dream, as he says, is still very much alive.
Corrects to reflect that Steve Nash is not yet in the Hall of Fame. He will be eligible for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020.