The window of a professional athlete’s career is almost always shorter than they would like it to be. After a nine-year career of playing professional basketball overseas, Edmonton, Alberta native Steve Sir was ready to return home, but not yet ready to give up the game. What the 6-foot-5 sharpshooter found when he discovered FIBA 3x3 was a new lease on his playing career.
Returning home after playing in the NBA’s Summer League with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2016, Sir and his wife Caitlin were in the midst of figuring out what was next.
“Our family was going through some new and exciting changes,” Sir said. “We just had our second daughter and it was getting harder to really realistically think about leaving home to travel abroad.”
Sir wasn’t a stranger to 3x3, with Alberta Basketball running a domestic tournament in Edmonton since 2011, but he hadn’t yet considered it as a possibility to continue his own playing career.
Five years later, currently ranked as the top men’s 3x3 player in Canada, Sir can say with certainty, his pivot to 3x3 basketball has exceeded all hopes and expectations going into the sport.
“Coming into it, I knew it was going to be fun,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a great competitive outlet. I also saw it as a brand new fresh challenge, especially after I started playing it. You come into it and you have your impressions on how it is and what it looks like, and then you play it and you're going, ‘Wow, this is really different.’”
The speed, along with the increased physicality, as well as the self-discipline and mental toughness needed to succeed in 3x3 was exhilarating.
“I wanted to be a part of that,” Sir continued. “And not only did I just want to be a part of that, I wanted to be successful in it. I wanted to be on the world tour. I want to be playing for Canada at world events and I wanted to be successful at the highest level possible. So it exceeded my expectations, and also, in a way, it really reinvigorated me about basketball. I was 34 and I really felt like I was starting all over again.”
Since Sir joined the sport in 2017, 3x3 has grown rapidly in Canada. In addition to there being a women’s series to match the men’s, 3x3 is now an Olympic sport. With that sort of exposure, the reach is bringing new players to the courts, almost every weekend. From tournament to tournament, competition is increasing and skill levels are advancing as the game continues to reach more people and the player pool keeps widening.
“To see [3x3] named as an Olympic sport and to see it on that stage is a great deal of pride,” Sir said. “I hope it continues to grow, and I hope I can be a part of that growth because it's something that's important to me. When we go to these world events, you want to see more Canadians involved.”
Providing another option for players to play in Canada and potentially represent Canada in 3x3 is important. When Sir was finished playing five-on-five professionally overseas, he knew he wanted to continue playing, but also wanted to be closer to home. Without a women’s professional league in Canada, Sir feels the 3x3 women’s series is especially important because it provides an avenue for women to continue their careers at home in the same way he chose to in 2017.
“I'm excited for the potential that 3x3 has in Canada because we have a lot of good players, on the men's side and the women's side,” he said. “If we have the right amount of events, it should be a no brainer for our country because there's a lot of women that are finishing their college careers in Canada, as well as in the United States that can still really play and should have the ability to have that outlet to remain competitive and and to compete in all women's series stops in different areas of the world and then also be fighting to push Canada up to the country in world rankings.”
From the early days where he and Caitlin sat at their kitchen table, learning the FIBA points system while trying to map out a plan for the year ahead in hopes of ensuring that Canada would qualify for future tournaments, to today, looking ahead to finishing things out in Miami, at a new event for the sport, it has been a journey that Sir won’t forget. It has also been a journey that wasn’t forged alone.
When the commitment was made to see things through with 3x3, it was Caitlin who first figured out the FIBA point system, allowing them to plot the path ahead.
“She's my best friend,” sir said. “She believes in this the same way I have. And she's one in a million. This couldn't have been done without her.”
As Sir begins to reflect on the impact he has had on the growth and identity of 3x3 in Canada, it is his family that features prominently in his mind.
“All this stuff on how the sport is growing in profile in Canada and being able to kind of be the guy that's been at the front of that for the past three or four years is special, but it wouldn't have meant the same without it being something that my wife and I and our two girls have really shared in together,” Sir said.
“There's a different meaning to it now because, you know, I play the sport with my friends, and my family has been involved in it every step of the way. It has a much deeper meaning and really resonates in my heart in a different way as a result of that.”
What 3x3 provided was an opportunity for Sir to push himself as a competitor, extending his career while still playing at the highest level, and getting to do it from his home base with his family present.
“You know, I'm thirty-nine and I never thought I would play this long,” Sir said. “I'd be lying if I didn't hope that I was going to be able to because it's always been a kind of a bucket-list thing of like, how long can you persist and still do something at a high level? As I'm sort of starting to see the end of it all… to be a part of [the inaugural FIBA 3x3 AmeriCup] is going to be special.”
Though this weekend’s AmeriCup is set to be Sir’s last time donning the red and white for Canada, the impact he has made in helping grow the sport will remain.
“I've never really been driven by external things,” he said. “I love to compete and I love to play. 3x3 has been wonderful to me because it's afforded me the ability to play a game that I've loved since I was a little kid. And the opportunity to play against the best at the highest level is what always fires me up and what always gets me going. Even at my age, it continues to motivate me to work as hard as I possibly can.
"This upcoming weekend, playing for Canada is something that is going to be really special,” he continued. “It is going to be a blast to be representing Canada at this event. I can't wait.”