Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams: How tragedy helped turn the New Zealander who wanted to be a farmer into a basketball star

On the eve of the opener of the Western Conference Finals, Steven Adams finds himself in the crosshairs. It’s just another crazy turn of events in Adams’ career, a journey that might not have even started if not for the biggest heartbreak in his life.
by Jenni Carlson Modified: May 18, 2014 at 12:05 am •  Published: May 17, 2014

After a couple weeks living with Warren, Steven moved in with Blossom Cameron. Warren had played basketball in the same club as her, and they got along well. He thought Steven might take to her, too.

He was right.

“She’s just amazing,” Steven said of Cameron, who eventually became his legal guardian. “She’s the best human being on earth.”

Moving in with Cameron was the first major living-changing event in the months after Steven moved to Wellington. The second was being introduced to basketball. Warren had played professionally in New Zealand, and he introduced Steven to Kenny McFadden, who opened a basketball academy in Wellington after playing professionally there.

Steven soon became one of the best-known young players in New Zealand, but outside the country, he was a virtual unknown. Most of the best young players join the country’s national program, but it is a pay-for-play setup and the cost is significant. It can be $10,000 a year or more.

Neither Steven nor anyone else in his family had that kind of money. So, Steven’s play was limited to the Wellington area. Ditto for his exposure.

But that changed when he was 15 years old.

McFadden happened to be longtime friends with Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. They’d played together in the New Zealand National Basketball League, and when Dixon returned to the country for the U-19 FIBA World Championships as the coach of Team USA, he had lunch with McFadden. Dixon asked about a big-man prospect in the country who’d caught his eye, and McFadden told him that as good as that player was, the best prospect was down in Wellington.

Dixon made a side trip to Wellington to see Steven, and as soon as he saw the 15-year-old, Dixon knew he had to recruit him.

Steven was already 6-foot-10.

Adams would eventually sign with Pitt, and now less than two years after playing his first game for the Panthers and less than a year after being drafted, he has become a force in these NBA Playoffs. He went from spot duty in the first four games of the Memphis series to significant minutes in the last three, not to mention taking the punch that sideline Zach Randolph in Game 7. He played better and better as the Clippers series went on, culminating with a double-double and 40 big minutes in the Thunder’s series-clinching victory.

Now, Adams might start Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Adams said he doesn’t really marvel at where life has taken him. From the farm to the finals. From the land to the hardwood. From basketball obscurity to the NBA spotlight. He admits that it’s just not the way he thinks about things.

“I understood that it was a process,” he said. “I just played it by ear, played it day to day. Cliché, but it really was.”

He shrugged.

“Maybe I’ll look back on it when all of this is over.”

If he does, he’s sure to see something amazing, a career taking root during hard times in New Zealand and blooming only a few years later in Oklahoma City.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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