Kamloops is a quiet city of about 85,000 that sits on the banks of the Thompson River in British Columbia. It is a city where the primary industries are mining and milling, and the residents are forbidden from putting trash out before 4 a.m. because bears might come and eat it.
Although it is 3,000 miles from Boston and seemingly even more distant in other ways, the two cities will share an unlikely connection this winter, because this is now home to two of Kamloops’s favorite sons. Seven-footer Kelly Olynyk is entering his fourth season with the Celtics, and forward Riley Nash signed a two-year deal with the Bruins over the summer.
“I don’t know how many athletes have made it that far that are from Kamloops,” said Lisa Strachan, the city’s director of destination development and trade relations. “And the fact that they’ve both made it and are both playing in the same city is pretty crazy.”
Not everyone from Kamloops knows one another, of course. But Olynyk and Nash do, and they are almost family: Olynyk’s father’s brother is married to Nash’s mother’s sister.
“It’s . . . I don’t know what you’d call it,” Nash said. “But we just call each other cousins. It’s easy.”
When Nash signed with the Bruins July 1, Olynyk got about 40 text messages from friends and family members who were aware of their bond. The first message Nash’s mother, Shannon, received was from Olynyk’s mother, Arlene, ecstatic that their sons would be reconnected on the other side of the continent.
“We were pumped,” Shannon Nash said. “It’s just really cool that we can get together and enjoy each other’s children in the same city. It’s really cool.”
Olynyk, 25, was raised in Toronto. His family moved to Kamloops when he was 13 after his father Ken was hired as the athletic director at Thompson Rivers University.
Nash, 27, is a Kamloops native.
Olynyk was the rare Canadian athlete who never developed a love for playing sports on ice, so he stuck to street hockey in neighborhood cul-de-sacs. Nash enjoyed playing pickup basketball games during his offseasons at Cornell. But that is about as much as their two sports intersected.
As Olynyk developed into a college basketball prospect, Nash was playing junior hockey about an hour’s drive away in Salmon Arm. Nash’s family would attend Olynyk’s high school football and basketball games, and Olynyk’s family would attend Nash’s hockey games.
The families remained close and often got together during summers, when Nash and Olynyk would play golf and take a boat out on Shuswap Lake.
When it became clear that both had the potential to become professional athletes, they leaned on each other about the challenges and responsibilities that come from a job few others can understand.
“Whenever they had an opportunity to connect, they took advantage of it,” Shannon Nash said. “They could kind of relate to what the other was going through, so they had a unique connection to guide each other.”
The Edmonton Oilers selected Nash with the 21st pick of the 2007 draft and retained his rights while he played for Cornell. He was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010 and toiled in the minor leagues for 2½ seasons before latching on with the NHL club in 2013.
The Celtics traded up to the 13th pick of the 2013 draft to acquire Olynyk from the Mavericks. The big man has averaged 9.6 points and 4.7 rebounds during his three seasons.
Olynyk has been to several Hurricanes games in Boston to see Nash, and Nash attended a Celtics game during one road trip here. Now, of course, their visits will be more frequent. When Nash signed, he quizzed Olynyk on whether he should live in the North End, and Olynyk told him about his neighborhood in Charlestown.
Olynyk’s parents are in town this week, and the four of them went out to eat.
“If he needs any help or suggestions about Boston, of course I’m here for him,” Olynyk said.
Their proximity is especially comforting to their parents, who are glad to know there will be a familiar and familial face nearby.
“The Bruins and the Celtics are two of those historic franchises, so you’re playing for special organizations, and that’s a special situation for any pro athlete to be in,” Ken Olynyk said. “And for Riley to be with the Bruins and Kelly to be with the Celtics is even cooler.”
Back in their hometown, they are celebrities with a comfortable quality of life.
“I think Kamloops is very proud of them both,” said the city’s mayor, Peter Milobar.
They will pose for occasional pictures and sign occasional autographs, but the city has a live-and-let-live air about it. Still, there figures to be extra attention paid to Boston sports this year.
“There’s a lot of Boston fans in Kamloops now for sure,” Shannon Nash said. “People follow both of the boys a lot and they have a lot of fan support. The people here have been awesome. And it’s also nice that when they’re here, they can still go out and be kind of normal.”
Shannon Nash said it is sometimes hard to find Hurricanes games on TV at restaurants in the city, mostly because of the intense dedication to Canadian hockey teams. But she thinks that a historic team like the Bruins will be shown more often.
There is no such ingrained NBA loyalty in British Columbia, however, so Olynyk has already helped the Celtics establish a footprint there. He has worked tirelessly to grow the game in Kamloops. He has hosted a summer clinic and is soon opening a basketball academy for elementary school students.
“The city’s amazing, just the way they treat people,” Olynyk said. “It’s fun to be able to claim that, and have them be able to claim us.”