Family

Kiwi NBA star Steven Adams recalls his heartbreaking final moments with his dad

At over two metres tall, Steven is an imposing presence on and off the court - but the loss of his father brought the Kiwi NBA superstar to his knees.

In this exclusive extract from his autobiography, Kiwi NBA superstar Steven Adams, 25, talks of his close bond with his late father Sid, and reveals his final moments with him.

No-one knows for sure how many kids my dad had. If you ask anyone in the media they'll say he had 18, or maybe even 20, but they won't know where that number came from. If you ask my sister Viv, she'll say it's 16. I always thought there were 14 of us. Whatever the number, there will only ever be one Sid Adams.

Dad joined the merchant navy straight out of school in Bristol, England, and a few years later, when the boat he was working on docked in the Bay of Plenty, he jumped ship. He ended up in Rotorua and never left. Almost as soon as he arrived in New Zealand, he shacked up with a local woman and had two daughters.

The relationship clearly wasn't a great one because those two daughters chose to have nothing to do with him for the rest of his life. Unfazed, he hung around, driving logging trucks for a forestry company and apparently meeting plenty of women.

In 2005, when I was 12 years old, Viv and Valerie organised an Adams family reunion.

It was going to be the first complete Adams reunion ever. It would also be the last. Maybe they waited until they were sure Dad wasn't going to have any more kids before trying to round us all up.

Or maybe they wanted to make sure none of us were accidentally dating our cousin seeing as quite a few of us kids hadn't properly met. It was held at our house and almost everyone showed up – 13 kids, with some getting to know each other properly for the first time.

Even though some of the brothers, like Mohi and Rob, only found out they were Dad's kids later on in life, as soon as they were introduced to us it was like they'd been there the whole time.

The youngest bunch of the Adams children (from left) Steven, dad Sid, Gabby, Lisa and Sid Jr.
The youngest bunch of the Adams children (from left) Steven, dad Sid, Gabby, Lisa and Sid Jr.

Looking around, it wasn't hard to tell we all came from the same guy. You couldn't turn anywhere without bumping into a giant Adams forehead. I think Mohi might be the only one who escaped the famous Adams brow.

It was cool seeing Val again. She'd been competing all around the world in shot put and had just come third at the world champs.

She was definitely the star of the family, but because she had grown up and lived in Auckland, I didn't feel that connected to her. She was more of a distant sister who we sometimes would see on TV. Yet Val's upbringing wasn't all that different from ours and it seemed like the two of us actually had a lot in common.

She's the tallest girl of the family at 6'4", and although at that age I didn't look tall next to her, I was on my way to becoming the tallest boy. At that reunion, though, Ralph and Warren, both nearly seven feet tall, were the big brothers in every way.

I looked at Val and all she was achieving on her own and couldn't help but be impressed. Even though at that point I wasn't taking anything seriously, and definitely not basketball, she showed me that the Adams family had the talent and the genes – we just had to put in a bit of hard work and we'd go far. Ralph and Warren also had the genes and talent. Quite a few people over the years have said they could have been in the NBA if that was even an option for New Zealanders in the 1980s.

Not long after that reunion, Dad found out he was dying. Of course, he didn't tell me at first. I knew Dad was going to the doctor because he had fairly regular check-ups for his legs and his asthma. When he got home, I asked if there was anything wrong.

He told me the doctor had found "some white stuff in my stomach". I thought they must have just seen the ice cream we'd eaten earlier swirling around in his tummy. I told him that and he nodded, which to me meant he was fine.

Steven Adams poses after being selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2013 NBA Draft.
Steven Adams poses after being selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2013 NBA Draft.

That night, Viv came by the house, as she always did, and she and Dad sat in the lounge talking. When Dad had gone to bed, Viv called me, Sid [Jr], Gabby and Lisa out to the living room. "Dad's sick," she said. "He's really sick. He's got cancer." I knew what cancer was and I knew it wasn't just ice cream swirling around in his tummy. Viv explained how the doctors didn't think there was much they could do and Dad, being Dad, didn't want to go through all the chemotherapy and radiation, so he was just going to wait it out.

After our little meeting we ran to Dad and hugged him. By that point we were all crying, which he didn't like. "Stop the bloody crying," he said, the first of many times he would say that.

"I'm the one who should be crying, not you guys." It was typical Dad, telling his kids off for crying over something even if it was the news that he was dying. Everything moved so quickly after that and no-one, even now, can remember exactly how long he was sick. At one point, Viv took him to the hospital for a procedure which they stuffed up. They sent him home anyway because he didn't complain about the pain.

But a few days later he was in agony, so he called Viv and asked her to leave work to drive him to the hospital. When she asked him why he didn't just call the ambulance, he said he didn't want to pay the fee for getting an ambulance pick-up. If you ever hear me being a tight arse and complaining about paying for parking, that's where I get it from.

Steven played for the Wellington Saints in 2011 before being drafted into the NBA in 2013.
Steven played for the Wellington Saints in 2011 before being drafted into the NBA in 2013.

Once Dad was back in hospital, he stayed there. Viv came by every morning and night to make sure we were going to school and had something to eat for dinner. She also called Mum in Tonga and told her to come back because Dad was sick.

She did come back, but it didn't feel right. She got a job working at night and we barely saw her, which suited us kids just fine since that's what we were used to. It felt weird to have my own mum living in the same house as me and feeling like a stranger. During that time, Viv felt like more of a mother simply because she'd been helping out for so long and wasn't about to stop just because Mum was back on the scene.

I still don't know what exactly happened, but suddenly Dad wasn't allowed to come home. Viv sent one of her daughters to go get Gabby from basketball practice and then called Ralph and Warren, who had both just flown home, and told them to hurry back because Dad was on his way out. It was a Monday.

By Tuesday everyone except Val was back in Rotorua. She had been at an athletics meet and was in Sydney on her way home when Viv told her the news.

Dad was deteriorating quickly. He couldn't move or talk, or even make noises. His hands, those enormous hands, lay motionless at his sides. When I put my hand in his and squeezed, he didn't squeeze back. There was a rumour around town that Dad had once broken a guy's hand by squeezing it too hard in a handshake. I started wishing he would break my hand in his grip because at least that meant he could still move.

Slam dunk! The athlete jokes that "this is probably the closest I got to a Tom Selleck moustache".
Slam dunk! The athlete jokes that "this is probably the closest I got to a Tom Selleck moustache".

Val was due to arrive in Auckland that afternoon and was going to race down to Rotorua, a three-hour drive away. We all kept telling Dad to hold on just a little longer because Val was the last one to come. If he could just hold on, he could go surrounded by all his kids.

Val arrived at 8pm. We let her have some time alone with Dad before all 14 of us joined her around his bed.

The doctors had already told us that he would go that night, so even though he was in intensive care, where there are strict visiting hours, we were allowed to be there all day and into the night.

Older brother Mohi's farm has always been Steven's favourite place to relax.
Older brother Mohi's farm has always been Steven's favourite place to relax.

Every few moments someone would tell a story about Dad or crack a joke that would have us all giggling, but mostly we just watched and waited. I never thought I'd ever want my dad to die, but after seeing him struggling so much in those last few days, I just wanted him to be at peace.

And, of course, being Dad, he had to make it dramatic. All of us had our eyes glued to his massive chest as it would slowly rise and fall with each breath. After about an hour, he took a really long breath and his chest puffed out real big, and then it stopped.

I heard someone sob and I thought that was it, he was gone. But then a second later he breathed out and his chest deflated. We were all coming back from that moment when we noticed his chest hadn't risen again, and the emotions came out again. And then he breathed again! Honestly, it was like he was playing one last game with us.

He did that a few more times before some of the older brothers grumbled that he was just pissing around now, which made us all laugh.

They had a point. Here we were trying to prepare for the worst moment of our lives and it was like Dad couldn't make up his mind whether to stay or go. It must've sounded ridiculous to all the nurses and anyone else in the ward.

It was 10 o'clock at night and this massive family was crying and then laughing and then crying and laughing again. I don't know if it's a brown thing, but if you're not laughing at the hospital, no matter what the situation, you're doing it wrong.

When it finally happened, it was somehow a surprise and a relief at the same time. We all broke down. Someone, or maybe more than one person, started screaming. The nurses came by with tissues and words of comfort. When someone came in to check he had really passed, everyone except for Viv had to leave the room.

That's when we knew he was really gone. He pushed us out as far as he could before resting, and I'll always be thankful for that.

Dad took his final breath at 10.56pm on May 2, 2007. It was a Wednesday.

*Steven Adams: My Life, My Fight* (Penguin Random House, rrp $40). Available now.
Steven Adams: My Life, My Fight (Penguin Random House, rrp $40). Available now.

read more from