Nash was born on July 9, 1959, to a devout Christian family, in southwest Detroit, Michigan. Nash's father, Robert, died of a heart attack on April 4, 1968, aged 36, when Nash was eight years old. On December 27, 1994, Nash's mother, Wanda, died after a four-year struggle against breast cancer. He attended Aquinas High School, followed by the University of Tennessee, where he majored in psychology and minored in educational philosophy. At the University of Tennessee, Nash was a center for the Tennessee Volunteers basketball team. He remained on the team from 1977 to 1980, during which time the team made it to the NCAA Sweet 16. Following a physical altercation with head coach Don DeVoe and a series of other on-campus incidents, Nash did not play a fourth year for the Volunteers, and he attempted to transfer to Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Nash reconsidered his options and instead moved to Europe, where he played basketball professionally for various teams. His career ended in 1981 in Germany (while playing for the Gießen 46ers) when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. With his basketball career over, Nash enlisted in the 202nd Military Police Company in Giessen, Germany and served in a secure NATO facility for two years, during which time he was promoted to the rank of specialist. After working on an assembly line at Ford Motor Company and as the floor manager of a strip club in Atlanta, Georgia, he decided to try professional wrestling.