NEW YORK – Steve Nash knows his Suns jersey could be hanging up for a while as NBA owners and players haggle over how to split billions in a new collective bargaining agreement.
So, it made sense to slip on a soccer jersey instead for an afternoon.
The two-time league MVP joined several of his basketball buddies and stars of Major League Soccer and the international scene Wednesday for his annual charity soccer match. The game played on an artificial pitch in New York benefited Nash's foundation, which tries to encourage kids and young adults to live active, healthy lifestyles.
It offered a welcome reprieve from NBA labor unrest.
"We're all staying abreast of the situation and trying to remain positive and optimistic we can come to a conclusion," Nash said. "But you know, it's not easy."
Union officials said Wednesday that the owners and players are still about $7 billion apart over a 10-year span in their most recent contract proposals. The current CBA expires June 30 and a lockout looms as the two sides prepare for another round of negotiations Friday.
"I've been around, I've been through a lockout, a work stoppage, so you know at some point it'll get handled," said Grant Hill, who also suited up for the charity game.
"I've talked to some of my younger teammates, some of the guys that are here, just trying to prepare them through the last year," Hill said. "It'll get done, whether that's sooner or later, it'll happen, and I think we'll get past it and get back to playing basketball."
And until then, they'll have soccer.
Among the players hanging up sneakers for cleats at the "Showdown in Chinatown" were Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks, Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, and 6-foot-11 Suns center Marcin Gortat, who cut an imposing figure as a goaltender for one of the sides.
The NBA stars were joined by soccer players that included former U.S. national team stars Claudio Reyna and Richie Williams, and Giuseppe Rossi from Spanish club Villareal.
"It's a great event. I think Steve is doing a great job for a great cause," said Parker, who had several family members among the few thousand fans. Most people sat in a riser set up behind one of the goals, while others ringed the fenced-in field at Sara D. Roosevelt Park.
"It's a great foundation and a great trip for me," Parker said. "I love playing soccer."
As hard as Parker tried to focus on dribbling a ball between his feet, though, he couldn't dodge all the questions that had to do with dribbling with his hands.
Along with the uncertainty of the labor situation, Nash, Gortat and Parker are among those who are hearing their names pop in trade rumors. The NBA draft is scheduled for Thursday night, which makes for an anxious time for some established veterans.
"I love the Spurs. I've played my whole career with them," said Parker, who San Antonio could use as a bargaining chip to land a high first-round selection. "Of course I've heard the rumors. The NBA is a big business and hopefully I can stay with the Spurs."
The rumors swirling around Nash and Gortat were persistent enough that Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said in an e-mail Wednesday, "We are not trading Marcin Gortat, period. End of sentence. We are not trading Steve Nash, period, exclamation point."
That was good news to Nash, who isn't keen on playing anywhere else.
"I only focus on trying to get our team back into contention," Nash said. "I don't pay attention to anything else. But it's nice that they say, you know, 'We want you here.'"