By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Why does the basketball equivalent of an octogenarian drag a beat up, worn down body out onto the court at the tail end of a lost season?
If you’re Steve Nash, the reason is the same as the one that kept Kobe Bryant hoping and holding the door open for so long until Lakers team doctors finally slammed it shut.
It’s what you do.
When you’re one of those ancient warriors who’s been playing for so long, it’s never just about the record or the place in the standings. It’s about testing yourself, pushing at the limits and pushing back at the critics who say it’s impossible or insane. It’s always about competing in the next game.
However, in the case of Nash, this would also seem to be about next year. Over these final weeks, he’s got to make a statement with his ability to perform and a case to bring him back.
The 40-year-old recently vowed to retire from the game if the Lakers’ offseason rebuilding plan takes them in a different direction.
“If the Lakers release me this summer this is it,” Nash said during Episode 2 of the Finish Line, the documentary he’s doing with Grantland.com that chronicles his final season(s) in the league. “You know, I finally got my kids here in L.A., I’m not going to move them again, and I’m not going to be without them for another year. So, it’s either back with the Lakers next year or I’m done.”
Nash has been plagued by nerve damage in his back and hamstring injuries, averaging 7.6 points, 4.7 assists and a near career low of 22.5 minutes in just 10 games. He has not played since limping off the court before halftime on Feb. 11 against the Jazz.
After playing in just 50 games last season due to another spate of injuries in his first season with the Lakers, it would seem that Nash’s body is telling him that it’s time to call it a career after 18 seasons that produced two MVP awards and probably exceeded the expectations of everyone who saw him come out of Santa Clara way back in 1996.
Yet that’s the thing about the great ones, the players who reach that elite level. It’s not so much that they won’t ever let go as it is them being the deciders of the time and the place.
You know that’s the driving force behind Kobe’s determined bid for an unprecedented comeback, much mores than the $48.5 million on the new contract. After all the accolades and all that he’s accomplished, he doesn’t want the lasting image to be that hobbling off the floor a year ago when the Achilles tendon tore or the six ineffective games he played this season.
They may look vastly different and play two entirely different kinds of basketball, but Nash has that ingredient in his DNA makeup. He want to walk out, not limp out. He wants to retire, not have the Lakers cut him to save salary cap space over the summer.
That’s why he’ll be back on the floor tonight at the end of a long lost season. It’s about next year.