Naas the person is totally different form Naas the rugby player, writes an old friend.
Naas Botha will rejoice at one thing in particular now that he’s hung up his rugby boots – there’ll be no more critics popping out of the papers to bedevil him. When I visited him last year in Italy, he was positively reveling in being so far out of reach of the South African media.
Naas is a very shy and private person, letting very few people get close to him – and unfortunately this has been to his detriment. Journalists and spectators confuse Naas the rugby player with Naas the person.
I also was guilty. I’d heard how Naas not only hogged the rugby ball during a game but was such a self-centered braggart off the field that he would barely acknowledge his team mates. And so it came as a shock when the word “rugby” wasn’t once mentioned when I first dined out with Naas and friends.
Naas later explained that his passion is playing the game – not talking about it, in direct contrast to reporters (and critics!) who talk but don’t play. He couldn’t understand why he was always being criticized for playing a one-man game: “If you think about it, somebody’s got to give me the ball so I can kick it!”
With his one-man-band rugby reputation, you’d expect Naas to specialize only in monologues. In fact, he’s always asking questions and probing deeper than most. He took a degree in physical education and psychology and still has an incredible thirst for knowledge. Even when he’s getting his fingers sticky eating his favourite colonel’s fried chicken, it’s difficult to exchange meaningless chit-chat with this blue-eyed Piscean.
Naas just isn’t into false charades, which could explain his apparent lack of public relations as Springbok captain in France. He’s also burnt his fingers too often to trust people much.
He had to call the police once, he told me, because journalist Jani Allan was allegedly snooping around his home. Once he came to watch a video at my house but left early because someone he’d never met was also there. Sitting chatting in a hotel reception are, Naas will stop altogether when anybody hovers nearby.
Naas prefers to surround himself only with close friends and family. That’s when he feel safe and can be warm and caring, selflessly putting himself out to make you feel more comfortable and at home than anyone else.
He doesn’t trust strangers – but can trust some people too much. I’d known him less than three days when he gave me a key to his house. While I was touched, it seemed a dangerous gesture to give a key to his most-despised breed of human, a journalist!
Of all the international sports and entertainment stars I’ve had the pleasure (and pain!) of meeting, nobody has had more impact on my life that Naas. He convincingly taught me how not to let other people’s perceptions and jealousies limit you, and how anything is possible if you believe in yourself. He’s also one of the most humorous, down-to-earth and intelligent people I’ve ever known.
As he prefers not to be in the limelight, Naas spends a lot of time at home watching virtually any video – his favourite is The Hitcher. he can sit up until long past midnight flicking from channel to channel with the remote control, all the while discussing inane American comedies, international politics, psychology and religion. Hint: never blaspheme in his hearing.
Nothing escapes his attention. He’ll be in the middle of explaining the Ten Commandments when he’ll point out female snooker players’ weird stances on the TV screen.
When Naas is proud of something such as his amateur photography, it’s with almost childlike anticipation that he shows it off. But he doesn’t expect special star attention so when someone does flatter him, you can see sheer gratitude flood his face.
He once invited a female fan, who’d spent years trying to track him down, to his home in Pretoria. She arrived weighed down by the scrapbooks she’s collected of her hero – and it was difficult to see who was most pleased about the meeting. Naas was overwhelmed that someone could have gone to so much trouble over him.
His collection of cups and awards is tucked away in the other, lesser-used lounge. In Italy, the only sign in his home of his brilliant career was a couple of posters. The rest of the flat was decorated mainly with theatrical clown faces collected in Venice.
Naas is an enthusiastic collector – he has shorts with different designs, from around the world, and probably more Swatch watches and straps than anyone else. But his CD collection is a bit wanting in variety, consisting mainly of British West End musicals, Elton John, Boney M and other middle-of-the-road stuff.
Although Naas occasionally dines out, he far prefers junk food. He loves pizza – which has made his half-yearly stays in Italy more enjoyable.
Spending time in Europe during winter has allowed Naas to participate in one of his favorite sports, skiing. Naas shone in several sports at high school but believes in specializing to excel. He once told me he’d never regret having dedicated so many years of his life to rugby: “This is the life I decided to live and it’s been totally worth it. For me, it’s not a sport – it’s a lifestyle.”
And when Naas chose rugby and that lifestyle it was to use what he believed was a “God given talent.” But he didn’t choose to relinquish his privacy, and many of Naan’s side-swiping comments were retaliations from a man who felt victimized.
Let’s offer him some respect and appreciation for all he has given to the game of rugby and South Africa since his Springbok debut 14 years ago… and listen to the verdict of one ex-girlfriend: “Naas is truly, truly the most incredible person I know.”
PERSONALITY, November 27, 1992