Ten years ago, Steve Nash introduced me to the NBA. Two days ago, he retired. My journey as a fan during that span is a small part of his brilliant legacy.
2005 was an important year during my adolescence. I started high school, struggled to understand what a "Hollaback Girl" was, and SNAPE KILLED DUMBLEDORE.
But I will always remember 2005 as the year I found one of my life's greatest adorations—basketball. And I'll remember it for the man who introduced me to it—the improbably astonishing Steve Nash.
On the evening of Wednesday, May 18, 2005, I happened upon an NBA game on my television, and it would be the first full game of basketball I had seen. The Phoenix Suns, led by a skinny, floppy-haired Canadian who looked like he had no businesses being on the court amongst a slew of trees, defeated the Dallas Mavericks 114-108. Nash registered a triple-double with 34 points, 12 assists, and 13 rebounds to power the Suns to a pivotal Game 5 victory over the team that elected to let him leave in free agency the previous summer.
But on that night, I was entirely unfamiliar with this context (hell, I didn't even know what an assist was). All I can remember is being transfixed to my TV for nearly two and a half hours as I watched Nash put on a magician's performance. I was hooked. I wanted more.
I watched as Nash closed out that series with a 39-12-9 performance two nights later in Game 6, and I fell deeper. I conjured up a connection to the City of Phoenix and was ready to call myself a Suns fan.
I watched as the Spurs defeated the Suns in the Western Conference Finals and yet, I fell even deeper. I suddenly hated that team from San Antonio, despite just having discovered the Suns a couple weeks prior.
I followed the Suns next year and the year after that, and continued to fall deeper and deeper into fandom. I jumped from my seat, full of rage as Robert Horry body-checked Nash into the sideline in 2007. I collapsed into my seat out of disbelief as Tim Duncan hit his only three-pointer of the season in 2008 to send Game 1 of the playoff series into double overtime. And despite my best efforts, I mirrored Nash's anguish as he cried in the locker room after losing his last great shot at an NBA Finals berth to the Lakers in 2010.
When Nash left the Suns for the Lakers in 2012, I felt an irrational sense of betrayal from someone I had grown to idolize more than any other person I had never met. Within months, that anger slowly transformed into ambivalence, and then to empathy. I remained a Suns fan through and through, but as a fan of basketball, I missed watching the guy who was the unmistakable reason why I became an addict in the first place. And as a basketball romanticist suffering from a bout of nostalgia, I hoped for his healthy return to the court so I could once again see him play.
Ten years ago, Steve Nash introduced me to the NBA. Two days ago, he officially retired from basketball.
There has been much already written about Nash's illustrious career, his accomplishments, and his legacy. That "L" word, legacy, has been thrown around a lot over the last couple days, and for good reason. I've been reminiscing about what being a fan of Nash for a decade has meant to me and that's when it hit me—my journey as a basketball fan is exactly what Nash's legacy is.
In a career often defined by numbers—2 MVPs, 6 All-NBA selections, 8 All-Star appearances, 9 straight league-best offenses, 3rd all-time on the assists list, 1st all-time in free throw percentage, 4 50-40-90 seasons, and ultimately, 0 championships—Nash's 19 years in the NBA reflect something that goes far beyond records and statistics.
Steve Nash changed basketball. In a league that was mired by some of the driest and most uninspiring basketball in a while, Nash and the Suns arrived like a gang of outlaws determined to start a revolution and send the Wild West into a furious frenzy. Mike D'Antoni orchestrated the anarchy, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion brought the explosives, Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, and several others after them were the gunslingers but make no mistake—Steve Nash was the unlikely leader of the gang. He supplied the ammunition that allowed everyone to succeed and made each of them better. And when needed, he had no problem dueling and firing his own (50-40-90) clip. He was also tough as hell, constantly absorbing shot after shot to his body and always returning to battle.
Unfortunately, Nash's successes didn't include what many consider to be the pinnacle of NBA triumph: a championship ring. However, I argue that what Nash accomplished is greater than the scope of an NBA championship.
Only transcendent talents can truly transform the way people think about their craft. Warhol changed art. Hendrix changed music. Kurosawa changed cinema. And Nash changed basketball. His work may not have had the widespread reach of the the aforementioned luminaries but to me, he was a significant influence. Many times, he did remind me of an artist—the court was his canvas, his stage, his theater, and the ball was his paintbrush, his guitar, his camera.
Nash undoubtedly had his deficiencies (defense), but he managed to transcend them and become a player that many of today's talents emulate. Steph Curry, who's drawn many comparisons to Nash during his MVP-worthy campaign this year, credits Nash as a source of inspiration. Greg Popovich, whose Spurs haunt Suns fans to this day, readily admits to using Nash-led offenses as blueprints for retooling his playbook after the Suns finally defeated San Antonio in 2010. And ironically, one of those Spurs teams did something Nash's Suns never could—win a championship.
And that is one of the legacies of Steve Nash's career. His play inspired many amongst today's crop of playmakers and ushered in a golden era of point guards. His teams transformed how the NBA thinks about offensive success and efficiency. Nash's hands never touched the Larry O'Brien trophy, but his fingerprints all over the NBA.
But beyond all this, Steve Nash's legacy is directly related to my experience with basketball. Sports fandom is an experience quite unlike any other. It can often highlight the worst of human emotions in an inconsequential manner but it's also an inexplicably wonderful thing—and Nash was the one who evoked it all for me. That person is different for most fans—it could be Barkley or Kevin Johnson for other Suns fans, or Jordan or Kobe for other NBA fans—but with his brand of basketball, Nash attracted many newcomers like me to the game.
He is who defined basketball to me; without him, I may never have journeyed through the highs, the lows, and the beautiful irrationalities of being a fan. When I throw a crumpled up piece of paper into a trashcan, I mutter his name, not Kobe's. He's the reason I consider myself an ardent Suns fan to this day despite never stepping foot in the city of Phoenix (ok, I was in the airport for an hour once). And he's why I play, coach, love, and am addicted to basketball.
In a letter announcing his retirement, Nash said the following about his time in Phoenix:
"It will always hurt that Phoenix Suns fans didn't get the championship they deserved during our run. Yes, we had some bad luck but I always look back at it and think, I could've made one more shot, or not forced a turnover, or made a better pass. But I don't regret anything. The arena was always sold out and rocking. It was the time of my life. Thanks, Phoenix."
Yes, Nash could've done more for Phoenix but the truth is, the element of luck is hugely important and often overlooked when it comes to winning a championship—so much has to go right. Nash and his Suns did face a good deal of bad luck during their prime but as a fan of those teams, I consider myself incredibly lucky.
Steve Nash gave a lot to the Suns and to the city of Phoenix, yet he gave even more to the sport of basketball. He inspired a love of basketball in me (among countless others), sending me on the journey of sports fandom—and that will remain a small part of his brilliant legacy.