Nate Darling of Nova Scotia hopes his first game in the NBA is just one of many exciting moments in his career, and for basketball in Atlantic Canada.
Darling, a shooting guard for the Charlotte Hornets, played his first NBA minutes on March 13 against the Toronto Raptors.
"At the time it was just, you know, getting ready to play," said Darling. "After just sitting there within my thoughts, I was like, 'Wow, that's what I've been dreaming of for 10, 15 years.'"
Darling, who was born in Saint John, N.B., but grew up in Bedford, N.S., became the first from both provinces to play in a regular-season NBA game.
Growing up, Darling looked to Canadian star Steve Nash for inspiration. Seeing Nash play at the highest level gave Darling hope he could one day do the same. Now, he wants to fill that role for people in Atlantic Canada.
"It's just being a face for other kids' dreams," said Darling.
"Just being that for a bunch of young ballers in Atlantic Canada, that can look at me and be like, 'If I really grind and put in the work I can do that too,' and I think that's honestly a beautiful thing for me to be able to give kids hope."
The game against the Raptors wasn't the first game he dressed for. Darling had suited up for the Hornets' game against the Detroit Pistons a couple days before, but didn't play.
But when Charlotte took a big lead against the Raptors, Darling took the stage in a game that was televised across Canada.
East Coast pride
After playing his first game for the Hornets, Darling's phone was abuzz with messages from back home, congratulating him on the accomplishment.
Katherine Brien was one of those people cheering Darling on from home. Brien is the executive director of Basketball Nova Scotia, so when Darling stepped on the court, it was a special moment for her.
"It was a really incredible moment, a little bit personally and professionally for me," said Brien.
"I think that because our provinces are so small, we band together in so many areas as being the Atlantic provinces or even the Maritime provinces, that everyone felt a sense of pride, I can imagine, watching him on court."
Nate Darling furthered his career by playing high school and university basketball in the United States, Brien said he always made time for his home province.
Darling played for the Nova Scotia provincial team, and helped the squad win the U17 national championship.
"I find so often, kids leave wherever they're from in small provinces, end up in Ontario, and you never hear from them again," said Brien.
"For Nate to be proud of being from the Maritimes, being from Nova Scotia, and saying, I'm from Bedford, this is my hometown, playing for the provincial team and owning that part of his life I think is the cool thing that we may miss in some other kids."
While Darling was the first Nova Scotian to make the NBA, there could be more to come. Lindell Wigginton of Dartmouth has spent the past two years playing for the NBA's developmental G League.
Darling hopes his story will also bring more attention to players from the Atlantic provinces, and he hopes that exposure will make the path to playing professionally even easier for future players.
"It just shows that the Halifax community and the Atlantic provinces community needs more attention," said Darling.
"Me and Lindell both had to leave and go to America when we were like 15 to get to where we are, so I think hopefully that kids can now follow their dreams while staying with their family and stuff like that."
And now that Darling has made his NBA debut, he hopes there's a more regular role for him in the future.