Earlier today, news broke that Steve Nash is going to sit out the 2014-15 season due to lingering nerve injuries. Anyone who knows me knows that Nash has always been one of my favorite players and I’ve admired him for as long as I’ve followed the NBA. My appreciation for Nash has grown over the years, maturing alongside my own personal maturity and understanding of the world. Now that his career has come to a close, I have felt the need to reflect on what the two-time MVP has meant to me.
One part of Nash that has always been true is his race. He’s white, just like Jimmer Fredette and Luke Harangody, except he’s really good. As a white kid who grew up following a mid-major basketball team (and other Cleveland sports teams), I knew what it meant to play with a chip on your shoulder and attempt to prove people wrong. Steve Nash, who didn’t play high school basketball in the United States, was lightly recruited by American colleges. Santa Clara gave him a scholarship and the Canadian proved his doubters wrong on the court. I have taken the same mindset with my sports media aspirations, and I think it’s turned out okay thus far.
Steve Nash always had a child-like enthusiasm offensively, always trying to create an efficient possession. Never did Nash need to “get his shots” every game; he ran the offense and did something rare in the modern, isolation-heavy NBA…he passed the ball! Nash always shot the ball well, but he took more pride in hitting open teammates and logging a dollar’s worth of dimes. Many players forget that basketball is a team game; Steve Nash never did. He generated 21,186 points because of his assists while scoring just 17,387 points of his own. I learned to play to my own strengths, just as Nash did, posting 50/40/90 seasons and winning MVPs.
Yes, Nash’s defense never approached the same level as his offense, but this is partly due to the systems he played in for so many years. Can anyone recall a time where Steve Nash played in a system that wasn’t in the “run and gun” genre? I think there were a handful of minutes here and there, but none from his prime. Nash posted 16.1 defensive win shares in his career, which is not good, but it isn’t “efense” either. He tried on the defensive end, but no, he was not a good defender. It sounds crazy, but while Nash’s offense taught me to play to my own strengths in life, his defense taught me to try in all aspects of life because sometimes you have to do things you’re not very good at.
As Nash grew older, his play seemed to mirror Peter Pan. His child-like frenetic pace, along with his coronation as a great teammate, made it seem as if he was not aging. However, the cracks began to show, little by little, as his minutes began to decline. He still played his hardest, but it was impossible for him to continue without taking some of the workload off. Never did he complain about aging into his mid-30s, instead continuing to post per-minute numbers in line with his MVP seasons. His running partners were changing, but that didn’t stop him, either. In this facet, Nash taught me not to change, but to have confidence in my abilities and who I am, no matter who is around me.
Steve Nash loved basketball, but he also loved his country. He inspired a generation of Canadian athletes to pursue the game of basketball; the recent influx of Canadians (Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, etc.) in the NBA can be partly attributed to Nash because he was the first true NBA superstar to come from up north. Nash represented his country on an international scale on multiple occasions and now serves as General Manager for Team Canada. The Canuck taught me to appreciate who I am and were I am from; I love Cleveland and support my city through it all.
Off the court, Nash had his hobbies, namely film and soccer. At times, these were integrated into his main career. He regularly used soccer as a workout and was known for dribbling a soccer ball when not dribbling a basketball. Nash even bought an ownership stake in Vancouver’s MLS franchise, Whitecaps FC. When joining the Lakers, Nash changed his number to 10 so he could honor Zinedine Zidane and other famous soccer players who wore the number. Nash’s film career has been a second notable hobby, with a co-director credit on his résumé for the 30 for 30 movie Into the Wind, about Terry Fox. He is also known for the autobiographical documentary series The Finish Line, which has chronicled the twilight of his career in real-time. The finish line has arrived for Nash, complete with the proper ending for a documentary rather than a fairytale.
As I have grown up, I have learned not to take life for granted. Steve Nash never played in the Finals; in reality, he played every game like it was his last. He also signed a three-year deal with the Lakers anticipating to win a title alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. When that deal expires, almost 3/4 of regular season games will list Nash with the letters DNP, NBA-speak for Did Not Play. He tried to shed those three letters on multiple occasions, but was ultimately unsuccessful. His last attempt to resuscitate the long-haired, MVP-winning Nash ended in failure. No one wants to see a superstar fall off of a cliff, but that is what happened to Steve Nash.
I could elaborate on the 50/40/90 seasons, the assists, or the MVPs, but these are what Steve Nash means to the NBA. They matter, but they do not define what Steve Nash meant to me as I grew from wide-eyed child to college student. He has been an ageless constant, a great person, and a very charitable philanthropist. He has been a role model, an honest man who played his heart (and nerves) out on over 1,200 occasions. Nash led by example, and I have learned from him in many ways.
Not too shabby for a white kid from Canada who couldn’t play defense.