This changes nothing, and this changes everything.
Steve Nash was locked in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer years ago, one of the stars of a generation and one of the standout point guards of any era. So, the agonizing slow leak into retirement — after Thursday’s announcement of Nash missing the entire 2014-15 season with a nerve issue — of what will become three consecutive seasons with serious injuries will not dent his legacy. He got old, not bad.
But what an insightful few years it was. We didn’t get to see Nash close to his best in L.A., what the Lakers hoped for when they sent a couple first-round picks, including the choice that is top-five protected in 2015, and a couple seconds to Phoenix in July 2012, but it was the best of Nash in some ways. The passion to play, the determination to work back instead of taking early retirement and a golden parachute — it was as telling in a strange way as any of the countless accomplishments on the court.
He was always faking people out like that. Nash didn’t have much of a future coming out of high school in the charming Vancouver suburb of Victoria, and then he turned one NCAA Division I scholarship offer, to Santa Clara, into being drafted in the first round and a career that would have reached Season 19 in 2014-15. He didn’t have the athleticism to hang with the speed point guards, and then he surgically steered the Phoenix jet offense of the Seven Seconds Or Less Days, running everyone else into the ground as it turned out. Now, at what by every indication is the end, although the Lakers have only said he is done for the season, Nash discovered a new way to impress.
He had done it in most every other manner before: back-to-back MVPs, eight-time All-Star, the only player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent on 3-pointers and 90 percent from the line four times. That’s two more than Larry Bird and three more than everybody else, third all-time in total assists, first all-time in free-throw percentage with at least 1,200 makes.
And if anything, Nash was underrated on offense — which is saying something considering the praise he earned. But to trigger one of the game’s lethal pick-and-roll games (particularly with superb finisher Amar’e Stoudemire) and also succeed in the high-octane offenses of coaches Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry as the Suns reached the Western Conference finals is a note few point guards can reach. He was never a good defender who could get in the conversation with, say, John Stockton or Gary Payton as all-time great two-way point guards. But Nash with the ball was still a clinic.
That’s Nash’s direct impact. His final legacy, though, won’t be known for years, maybe even for a decade.
The wave of Canadian players into the Draft the last few seasons? That is partly on him, too. Probably not to the extent of the expansion Raptors taking root in Toronto and the expansion Grizzlies in Vancouver. Maybe not even equal to the impact of Vince Carter winning the slam-dunk crown at All-Star weekend 2000 as a Raptor, given the impact of that event on kids and the basketball explosion in Toronto in particular.
But the guy who hadn’t played for a team in Canada since high school became the Nash-ional hero.
There’s Andrew Wiggins. Anthony Bennett. Kelly Olynyk, from British Columbia. Tristan Thompson. Nik Stauskas.
Stauskas was 14 or 15 — he doesn’t remember exactly — and part of a new breed of Canadian kids, the ones who didn’t grow up automatically playing hockey. His AAU coach, Anthony Otto, had known Nash for years and arranged for Stauskas and another prospect, Kevin Zabo, to spend a couple days being tutored by Nash in Phoenix. Two star-struck teenagers, a future Hall of Famer and an empty gym.
“I got a chance to work out with him and see him up close and the fundamentals he had,” Stauskas said. “For me, it was just like, ‘He’s not quick, he’s not strong, he doesn’t have a crazy build or anything and here he is a two-time MVP.’ You’re like, ‘Man, this is possible. If you work hard and do what he does, this is really possible.’ “
There were times Zabo, now at San Diego State, and Stauskas, now a Kings rookie as a lottery pick, stopped their individual work and watched Nash — now also general manager of the Canadian national team – in another part of the gym, for as long as 20 minutes. Just watching the Suns guard go through drills.
A technician like Nash had that kind of draw. It was hard not to stop and watch him at every opportunity, even when he played with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal in Phoenix or Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles. The chance to watch is almost certainly over as age claims another victim, but the disappointment of the hobbling finish for someone who had earned the right to go out on his terms doesn’t matter to the legacy.
It changes nothing. And everything.