“I’m retiring.” That’s the opening sentence in the piece Steve Nash published for The Players’ Tribune today, but it’s been a slog through the last few years of injuries, and everyone’s been expecting this moment for a while. Now the official end is here, and we wish it wasn’t.
With his announcement today, we can offer a paean to the point guard who played a large role — with then-coach Mike D’Antoni — in revolutionizing NBA offenses.
It’s revealing Nash spends the majority of the piece thanking those people who were instrumental in his career; he’s always been pre-programmed to assist and leave the scoring accolades to others. A lot of different people helped him become a future Springfield inductee and one of the greatest at his position in the history of the Association. Nash, the leader, was as unselfish as they come, and he stayed true that ethos while penning his official retirement piece.
While Nash’s attempt to come back from back and leg injuries seemed like a superstar hanging on too long, he was really just trying to help the Lakers, or else he would have announced his retirement before the season began. His struggles to get healthy were immortalized in the excellent Grantland documentary series, “The Finish Line,” but Nash’s last few years aren’t what we remember about him the most — even if, at 40, he could still remind us of what he once was.
No, it was his selfless devotion to the game first, and everything else second that will be his defining characteristic now that he’s stepping away from the NBA hardwood for good.
“The greatest gift has been to be completely immersed in my passion and striving for something I loved so much — visualizing a ladder, climbing up to my heroes. The obsession became my best friend. I talked to her, cherished her, fought with her and got knocked on my ass by her.”
He had some help, too, and doesn’t waste a lot of time talking about himself, so much as thanking those who aided him on his way. The first two people he thanked were the two coaches who saw his genius long before the public did: Don Nelson in Dallas and of course a mustachioed D’Antoni with his hands-off approach in Phoenix:
Don Nelson insisted that I score. I always wanted to pass but he said, “It’s goddamn selfish when you don’t shoot.” Or, “If you’re a dominant fucking player — dominate!” He insisted that I be aggressive. That growth was a turning point in my career.
Mike D’Antoni changed the game of basketball. There’s not many people you can say that about. No wonder I had my best years playing for him. His intelligence guided him to never over-coach, complicate or hide behind the game’s traditions. He deserves a championship.
It wasn’t just his coaches who inspired him, but one former player who is now trying to bringing a title back to Boston. When Nash would dribble by the bench in Phoenix as a rookie out of little Santa Clara, “Danny Ainge would say, ‘Take him!’ with intensity and contempt in his voice. That was a huge vote of confidence for a rookie.”
Perhaps the best moment — for us, personally — was Nash’s graph about his former teammate, and lifelong friend, Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk finally won a title in Dallas, but Nash was already gone. He doesn’t hold any grudges, as his Finish Line dinner showed us and as his paragraph celebrating Dirk and Dallas notes:
I remember when Dirk and I were nobodies. He used to say over dinner sometimes, “How are us two stiffs gonna make it in this league?” Somehow we made something of ourselves. After all the wins and all the great times we’ve had around the world together, what really means the most to me are the late nights early in our careers when we’d go back to the Landry Center in Dallas, to play a few more games of HORSE and one-on-one. Dirk and the great city of Dallas got their championship, and I couldn’t be happier for them.
That’s what kind of player and human being Steve Nash was and is: a person who could still celebrate his friend winning the title that was just a couple different bounces of the basketball from his grasp during his year’s in Phoenix.
For his 19-year career (though we can hardly count this season), Steve Nash averaged 14.3 points, 8.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds and just 0.7 steals in 31.3 minutes a night. His true shooting percentage for his career is a crazy .603. He’s third on the all-time assists list, but his pedestrian per-game numbers shortchange the prowess of the 6’3 kid born in South Africa and raised North of the Border.
Nash won two MVP awards, as we all know, and he was elected to eight All-Star games over his career. He was named to three successive All NBA First Teams (2005-2007) bookended by a pair each of Second and Third Team honors. He’s an All-Timer, and anyone who disputes his gifts to the game of basketball doesn’t really know what they’re talking about.
In retirement, we’re pretty sure he’ll be busy with his three kids, who will have their dad around a lot more:
Lastly, Lola, Bella and Matteo, you’re the center of my universe. All my focus and energy is here for you guys and moving forward, I couldn’t think of anything more exciting or rewarding.
We’ll always miss the mop-headed blur circling back around along the baseline and finding a big cutting through the paint for a dunk. He was a true original and we wish him well in “life after basketball.”