Cheers for Eli Pasquale echoed through McKinnon Gym one last time Saturday.
A tribute for the late two-time Olympian and basketball great was held in the gym in which he made his name as a five-time national champion with the University of Victoria Vikes.
Pasquale died Nov. 4 of esophageal cancer. He was 59.
“Eli was a giant. He was my hero,” said basketball hall of famer Steve Nash, the two-time NBA MVP who grew up watching Pasquale play in McKinnon Gym.
“His passion and commitment were an incredible education for me. Eli’s competitive fire was world class. He should have played in the NBA, but times were different back then,” Nash said.
“Eli passed a lot of that opportunity on to me. He told me: ‘You can do this. You can play in the NBA.’ You don’t know how powerful that was for a young person to hear. I lived an incredible life and a lot of that was because of the lessons Eli taught me. I learned from him that it’s not all about talent. It’s about desire, toughness and competitive spirit.”
Nash, who grew up in Gordon Head, recounted how he was “just a little punk sneaking into this [McKinnon] gym.”
Soon Pasquale, a point guard for the Canadian national team, was mentoring the future point guard.
“I can’t put into words what it was like to play your hero one-on-one in this gym when it was empty,” Nash said.
Nash also recalled being a counsellor in the Eli Pasquale basketball camps, which taught the game to a generation of young Islanders.
“So many people, young and old, were impacted by Eli,” Nash said.
Many of Pasquale’s former coaches and UVic and Canadian teammates spoke at the tribute, including Ken Shields, Gerald Kazanowski, Ian Hyde-Lay, Phil Ohl, B.J. Hamilton and brother Vito Pasquale.
The scoreboard in the gym was set to his old UVic number with the score showing 13-13 with 13:13 remaining. Pasquale played for the university from 1979 to 1984.
“Playing with Eli was electrifying and liberating. He wanted to be the best in not only Canada, but in the world,” said Kazanowski, who won four national titles with Pasquale at UVic, and placed fourth and sixth with him on the national team at the 1984 Los Angeles and 1988 Seoul Olympics.
“But Eli would always say: ‘Basketball is No. 2.’ As much as he loved the game, his love for his family was off the charts.”
Pasquale is survived by wife Karen, sons Isiah and Manny, brother Vito, sister Luciana and mother Adriana. The family said it was gratified by the outpouring of love and support in the community.
“We are overwhelmed by the turnout today. This is so powerful,” Isiah said.
“My dad would not have expected this. But he definitely would have appreciated it. He touched many lives, clearly. But the basketball pales next to the family man he was. He loved his family more than anything else.”