When the 1992 Dream Team was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last week, Magic Johnson — as the de facto spokesman for the team on stage — saved the coveted “last but not least” status and maybe his most glowing remarks for Larry Bird, his longtime rival.
Watching Bird receive another Hall of Fame honor (he was inducted into the Hall as a player in 1998), I couldn’t help but think that Steve Nash is the Bird of this generation.
My dad always told me that Bird was an awesome player, but prominent players like Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas insinuated that Bird was overrated because he was white. They implied that if a Black player was doing the same things Bird was doing, they wouldn’t be considered all that good. In the half-decade since he truly rose to mainstream prominence with the Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash faces those same critics who say his accomplishments are overblown because of his skin color.
I would have to vehemently disagree.
When Nash won back-to-back league MVP awards, there was talk that he won them because voters — many of them White media members — wanted to see this small White dude with whom they could identify glorified for his accomplishments as opposed to him actually deserving the award. My colleague, Austin Burton, even admitted he used to be one of the critics against Nash for that very reason. That argument is absolutely absurd, though, and anyone that watches Nash play would realize that.
Nash is one of the best point guards in NBA history, and he makes his teammates infinitely better. Players like Amar’e Stoudemire, Boris Diaw, Channing Frye, Shawn Marion and Quentin Richardson have been the beneficiaries of Nash’s play over the years, and will be the first to tell you how much he helped their games. The Santa Clara product has an incredible ability to penetrate and get into the lane at will, which opens up the floor for the sharpshooters that surround him.
In addition to his passing ability, Nash is also a great shooter, maybe one of the best pure shooters the game has ever seen. He can knock down shots from anywhere on the floor, and shoots at an incredibly high clip — from the field, beyond the arc, and at the line — for a point guard. To truly see Nash’s impact on a game, all one needs to do is tune into any Phoenix game over the past few seasons, but for those who are stat-centered, Steve’s stats don’t lie either.
In his two MVP seasons Nash put up incredible numbers. The first year he only averaged 15.5 points, but did so on 50.2 percent shooting, which is rare for a guard. He also dished out 11.5 assists per game. While some may argue that those are not MVP stats, if you look closely they are. He gets his points by shooting very efficiently and was the catalyst for the Suns team that led the League in wins. MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, and the year before Nash arrived, the Suns had only won 29 games. They finished his first season with 62 wins, with largely the same team they had the previous season. His value can’t be overstated.
In his second MVP year, Nash actually put up better numbers than the previous year. He scored a career-high 18.8 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting, and 4.2 rebounds (another career high). He also shot 43.9 percent from three and over 92 percent from the foul line, and while his assist average dropped to 10.5, his other stats more than made up for it. Also, while the stats have importance, how Nash makes the Suns go can’t be measured on a stat sheet, but was rightfully recognized by the MVP voters.
While Nash is like Bird in terms of being a White player who some say may be overrated, obviously he doesn’t have the championship pedigree. Bird has three rings. Nash has played the most playoff games of any current NBA player without making the Finals, but is still a great player nonetheless. For all the naysayers who want to bash Nash, just watch Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick this year and see how much better they are with Nash on their side.