I met Steve Nash on a Friday morning in Chinatown. His directions were sketchy at best.
“Take a right at the Three Penis Wine stand. Rub the giant bronze Buddha, then veer left. My doctor’s office will be three doors down on your right. If you come to a chicken playing tic-tac-toe, you’ve gone too far.”
I open the door of a non-descript office, and step into what appears to be the waiting room of a massage parlor. Steve Nash is speaking Mandarin to a man in a physician’s white coat. The man says something in punctuated Chinese and he and Nash burst out laughing. They shake hands and Nash sees me standing near the door.
“Hey man, good to see you. Thanks for meeting me here.”
“Oh my pleasure, where exactly is here?” I ask.
“This is my doctor’s office” replied the two-time MVP.
“Just a check up? Everything OK?”
He retorted with a smile, “It is now. You know that procedure that Kobe has to fly to Germany to get? Well I can get the even-more-illegal Chinese version right here. No long flight. No waiting.”
“Oh year, Dr. Rick is the best.”
I don’t know a lot about a lot. But I know the man in the white coat was not born with the name Rick. Nash and I drive in relative silence to the Uncle Drew set. Nash spends most of the ride constantly shuffling between radio stations, ostensibly looking for a specific song. I tolerate this frenetic behavior for 20 minutes. Just before I reach my breaking point, Nash bags his quarry, “Roar” by Katy Perry. Thanks, KISS FM. You haven’t really lived until you’ve witnessed Steve Nash belt, “AND YOU’RE GONNA HEAR ME ROOOOAAAAAAARRRRRRR!” Not my favorite tune, but I gotta hand it to Steve, the man has some pipes. We pull into the lot just as the song ends. Steve and I head straight to the makeup trailer.
Though the Uncle Drew Pepsi Max commercials are set at night, call time is in the early afternoon because of all the makeup and prostheses the players have to wear. As we step inside the trailer, I see Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Nate Robinson, and Maya Moore sitting in four makeup chairs in very states of elderly. Nash gets a “Norm” like greeting from everyone in the trailer. After handshakes and pleasantries all around, the head makeup artist informs Steve that he’ll have to wait as they only have four chairs and four artists.
Nash and I step outside to wait. He spends the next two hours trying to convince me that Blackberry is going to make a comeback. “Never count out Canada.” He said in the most thinly veiled humblebrag of all time. I bring up their recent bankruptcy filing. We agree to disagree.
Finally, Kyrie, Kevin, Maya, and Nate come stiffly walking out of the trailer. “Man four hours is a long time to sit still” says Love. The others nod in agreement.
“Alright well I better get in there” Nash says eagerly. “The sun is setting and there’s no telling how long it will take them to turn me into a grandfather.”
Nash walks out of the makeup trailer four minutes later, wearing a sun spotted bald cap and nothing else. No makeup, no prostheses. Just a bald cap.
Nate Rob heckles, “Damn, Steve. You look ninety.”
“I know!” Nash exclaimed. “Those guys are real pros. I don’t look at myself in the mirror very often, but it’s like they put 100 years on my face.”
“And I see you got your old man walk down too!” Maya Moore joked.
“What do you mean?” Nash asked perplexed. He had been noticeably limping since I picked him up at Dr. Rick’s.
“Oh nothing, man. I’m just playing.” Moore replied meekly. The five players along with a sea of production assistants and one very confused journalist headed over to the courts.
The conceit of these commercials is that the extras gathered for the pickup game don’t who the old people are. Each of the other players has filmed at least one of these commercials. The clips are incredibly popular online, so it’s safe to say most of the crowd will know Irving, Love, Robinson, and Moore. The big reveal in tonight’s shoot will be Nash, whose old man name is Scoops McGurk. The cameras will be focused on him.
Once the lighting is set and the players are ready, Director McG says, “Action!” and the cameras start rolling. Nash is dressed in a head band, short shorts, and high white socks. He watches the action from a Rascal scooter on the sideline. No one in the crowd recognizes him or knows he is a part of the commercial. All of a sudden, Uncle Drew walks over, and points at Nash, summoning him to the court. Nash stands up to a chorus of cheers like an old crippled woman at a big tent revival.
Steve starts out doing a flawless senior citizen impression. He hobbles up and down the court, never crossing either three point line. He badly shorts a three, then gets crossed up by one of the extras at the other end. His performance is perfect. He looks slow, inept, and just a little bit sad. He would never admit it, but I secretly think he based his performance on late-period Rasheed Wallace. After McG has gotten all the old man footage he needs, he yells “Cut!” and calls the actors over.
“Alright guys, great work all around. Especially you Scoops. You really sold it.”
“Thanks” Nash says between gasping breath. Nash drops to his back and starts peddling an invisible bicycle.
McG continues, “OK let’s turn it on now. Time to bring a little NBA magic. Get the ball to Scoops and let him go to work. Does that work for you, Mr. McGurk?”
“You bet, chief.” Nash replied while continuing to peddle up an imaginary hill.
When the shoot resumes, Nash takes the inbounds pass and brings the ball up the floor. He’s not really moving quicker than before and his limp seems to be worse. The other players give him tons of space, isolating him on what appears to be a 13-year old boy. Nash attempts a double crossover, but the ball bounces off his foot and straight into one of the camera men. Shaking it off, Steve slowly back peddles down the floor, looking older and older by the minute. On the next time down the floor, he is isolated again, but this time the 13-year old boy gets a hand on his crossover and beats Nash down the floor for a breakaway layup.
“Cut!” screams the director. “Scoops, what are you doing? It’s time strut my friend. Let’s see it.”
“Yes sir Mr. McG sir.”
“Action!” Maya Moore brings the ball up the floor guarded by the same 13-year old. She crosses him up so bad he falls down. She drives into the key and finds Nash in the corner. The shot goes up, vintage Nash form. So pretty. So smooth.
Clang!!! The ball bangs off the side of the backboard. Nash’s head slumps. A weird silence falls over the extras and the production crew.
“Cut.” The director walks over to Steve. I can’t hear what they’re saying. They talk for a full minute before Nash nods his solemnly. He turns and walks off the court as McG gives him a supportive tap on the behind. “Good game, Scoops. Good effort.” He turns to his PA and screams, “Stunt double to the set!”
A slightly shorter man dressed exactly like Nash jogs quickly onto the floor. I don’t recognize him, so I ask the closest PA who it is.
“The Professor. You know, the white kid from those And1 Mix Tapes? The director hired him just in case Nash had a back spasm or something. He was just supposed to be a stand in. You know, like when Al Pacino has a butt double?”
“Yeah…sure.” She returns to scribbling on her clipboard. The rest of the night played out in predictable fashion. The Professor was an incredible understudy. He threw lobs over and over to Love and Nate Rob. He snapped left handed bounce passes in traffic to Irving. He ran the pick and roll to perfection and hit every shot he took. At one point, he started dribbling laps around the key. Just cuz. By the time he dished a no-looker to Moore for an easy layup, he had every one of the extras chasing him under the basket. Vintage Nash. The footage was excellent. The commercial was sure to be another viral hit. And all the while, the real Scoops McGurk sat on the sidelines in his Rascal, realizing he had gotten old long before he stepped into the makeup trailer.
After the shoot wrapped, Nash and I walked to the car. I didn’t know what to say. The silence seemed endless as we drove down the freeway. Finally, Nash spoke, “You know Dr. Rick has been trying to get to go see him twice a week for a while. He’s got this treatment that uses gerbil venom. It’s supposed to lubricate the joints and increase stamina. After tonight, I think I could use it.”
I look over at him as he looks longingly out the window. As dubious as I am about everything he just said, I can’t stand in the way of hope. “Well if Dr. Rick says it’ll work…” I trail off unexpectedly. It’s as though my vocal cords went on strike, refusing to validate Dr. Rick.
“Yeah, gerbil venom. That’s the ticket. It definitely beats what Kobe’s doctor makes him do. I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to orphan tears.”