Basketball will take Steve Sir and family on the trip of a lifetime

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Steve Sir isn’t keeping score, but he knows basketball has already given him more than he can offer the sport in return, and he is grateful for the imbalance.

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And now, as his playing days wane and the 39-year-old begins to lay the groundwork for a coaching career, the game has presented him and his Edmonton family with the experience of a lifetime. Sir leaves on April 25 for an extended stay in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, where he will be playing coach of the MMC Energy 3×3 men’s professional team, as well as player development director for the country’s well established 3×3 men’s and women’s national team programs. His wife Caitlin and daughters — 10-year-old Isabelle and six-year-old Lyla — will join him once the school year wraps up in Edmonton in June.

“They’re going to see and do some very unique things. That’s one of the amazing parts about basketball, where it can take you and the special opportunities and special people it can connect you with,” Sir said last week. “The kids have no idea what they’re getting into, but they’re going to have so much fun.”

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This will be Sir’s second stint in Mongolia, as he spent some time in Ulaanbaatar last October, coaching men’s and women’s national teams and playing in local tournaments. That first opportunity came out of the friendships and professional relationships he developed with MMC Energy players and Mongolian hoops officials during stops all over the globe on the 3×3 world tour since 2018.

He lived in a city centre apartment and became far more immersed in the culture than a Canadian tourist would normally be. One particular day spent out in the countryside stands out for him. He was the guest of MMC Energy player Davaasambuu Delgernym, whose family owns about 110 horses. Together with Delgernym’s father and brother, they spent the afternoon herding and then riding horses, and eating a meal — sheep and goat meat, warm mare’s milk — in a family friend’s yurt. The views were amazing, the hospitality endearing.

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“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This was so amazing to a city slicker like me and I said that to (Delgernym) a couple of times. He said this is how we live. This is what we’ve done for generations. This is what our family takes pride in. It’s what we do. He obviously knows it’s cool, but it’s also just how he grew up.”

Sir is eager to have his family experience the welcome he was given by Delgernym’s family.

Steve Sir poses in front of a statue of Genghis Khan, located outside the Mongolian capital city of Ulaanbaatar.
Steve Sir poses in front of a statue of Genghis Khan, located outside the Mongolian capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Photo by Supplied Photo

“Having been fortunate enough to kind of be adopted into that, I’m excited for my kids to feel that too, being out there, able to see how these people live and how different it is, but how amazing it can be as well. There’s this strong belief that what the individual is doing is good because it’s best for the group. You band together and figure it out as a group. And once you’re in that group there is an extremely high level of loyalty.”

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The work will be rewarding as well for Sir. The 3×3 game has extended his playing career and he wants to give back as much as he can. He’ll coach up teams headed for the World Cup in Antwerp in June and the Asia Cup in Singapore in July, and beyond that his plans are pretty fluid. There will be 3×3 in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in July and August, and Sir is interested in playing for Canada in that tournament. The Paris Olympics are just two years away as well — and Team Edmonton came up just short of qualifying for Tokyo — but by then he might be well into the second phase of his hoops life as a coach. So he’ll take it a day and a year and an opportunity at a time.

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“You never say never. But at the same time, our lives are changing at home. We really swung the bat hard at Tokyo. Not qualifying was a heartbreaker, combined with all the challenges that came with trying to do that. To be honest, I’m more focused on how this year will go with the Mongolian group. I think I can still play at a high level. I’m really excited to be working on the other side of it. We’ll see what that means for 2024.”

He is focused on doing what he can to improve a well-developed program that saw its women’s team compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I got a chance to see how serious they take it and how much energy and effort and time has gone into their organizational approach to the sport. These guys are all in on this sport. They’ve been in it since 2006 or ’07 and there is a real strategy.”

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