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.
Oh, our darling Suns. Just when we start thinking we're completely out of the Playoff picture you regroup and somehow make a push that makes us want to believe again.
After last night's win the Phoenix Suns (38-33) are yet again in 9th place and just 2.5 games out of the playoffs. Due to the competition for 8th spot in the West that might not sound all too encouraging except they've won 4 straight games this past week, three of those wins coming against teams that are over .500 and all of which are from the tough Western Conference.
Lets take a minute to marvel at that. I know Houston is missing Dwight and Dallas hasn't gelled as well since acquiring Rondo, but the Suns have also had their share of misfortunes, the biggest of which is probably the sidelining of Brandon Knight (tempted to say Alex Len ankle injury because he's so tall, anyway). And yet the Suns have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games with those three losses coming against the East leading Atlanta Hawks, the West leading Golden State Warriors and LeBron James' Cavaliers. So despite all the turmoil of the season there is still hope we get into the playoffs, small as it might be.
With 11 games left Jim (won't) and I (will) took it upon ourselves to give you 5 reasons why the Suns won't make the Playoffs and 5 reasons why they will.
Why they won't
Reason #1: Russell Westbrook
Dude has been playing like his ass is on fire. Westbrook has now recorded 8 triple doubles in his last 13 games. If the team bus broke down on the way to the arena Westbrook would probably hitch a rope to the bumper, tie the other end around his waist, and pull it the rest of the way to the game. After carrying the Thunder through injuries to Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, while playing with a broken face, it's just hard to imagine he will let his team slide enough in the final weeks to let the Suns slip past them. If there's a player in the league more determined than Westbrook right now, I'm not sure who it is.
Why they will
Reason #1: Eric Bledsoe
His ass might not be on fire but in his last six games EB has averaged 19.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game on 46.1% shooting while making 75.7 % of his 6.2 attempted free throws. The numbers are quite impressive and if he could only keep his turnovers down and his attack mode ON the whole time he is on the floor this could be the driving force of the Suns playoff hopes. (I believe it will be the deciding factor in the end.)
Why they won't
Reason #2: The Schedule
The Suns close out the season with six of their last eight on the road against Portland, Golden St., Atlanta, Dallas, New Orleans and San Antonio. The Suns have a losing record on the road this season, 17-18, and are 4-13 on the road against teams with winning records. After playing the Kings in their next game, the Suns only other "easy" contest will be at home against the Utah Jazz... who are 14-5 in their last 19 games.
Why they will
Reason #2: Beating the odds
The remaining schedule might look like complete torture, but the Suns seem to play much better when they compete with a team that is supposed to be better than them. Had anyone asked me how the Suns would do in their next 10 games 10 games ago, my answer would be much different than it turned out. I was not expecting a win over Dallas or Houston. Their win over OKC from just a few weeks ago was very impressive as well. The Suns have proven they CAN beat those teams and except for the Clippers (0-3) which have just been a thorn in our heal and the Hawks (0-1) who we've played only once; the Suns have beaten every other remaining team on the schedule at least once in the 2014-15 season.
Why they won't
Reason #3: Math
Oklahoma City is 17-6 since the beginning of February and has won five of their last six. If they go 6-6 the rest of the way the Suns would need to go 8-3, and beat the Thunder in their final match-up, to make the playoffs.
After a home game against Houston the next four for the Pelicans are the Kings, Timberwolves, Lakers and Kings. That means despite their current three game losing streak the Pelicans likely aren't going anywhere and will still be very engaged in their home game against the Suns on April 10th.
The Suns have season series deciding games against both the Thunder and Pelicans remaining. The Thunder game is at home, but the Pelicans game is on the road and Anthony Davis has returned to play after a brief absence. If the three end up tied, Phoenix will have to win both of their remaining games against the Thunder and Pelicans or New Orleans will win the tiebreaker.
Why they will
Reason #3: Competition for the 8th leans on Russ and Brow
OKC's MVP Kevin Durant is sidelined for the foreseeable future meaning the reinforcements Russell Westbrook might have been hoping for (though probably not) won't be coming anytime soon. He's averaging 38.8 minutes per game over the last 10 and given the energy he expends when he's on the floor I'm assuming he'll slow down at some point. Hopefully he is tired for the last Thunder vs Suns match-up of the season on March 29, which seems like a legit possibility since OKC play the Spurs the night before.
Anthony Davis just came back from an ankle injury that kept him out the last two games - one of which was against the Suns, helping tilt the scale in our favor. Before that he was also averaging big (huge) minutes - 40 over the last 14 days and I don't see that changing going forward since the Pelicans will be fighting for the 8th spot as hard as the Suns and OKC. He'll have almost eight full games to tire out before playing the Suns on April 10th.
For comparison, our minute leader over the last 14 days has been EB at a much more reasonable 36 minutes per game.
Why they won't
Reason #4: The Bench
The Suns bench has now been outscored by the opposing team's reserves in six consecutive games. After struggling through a roster imbalance created by a glut of point guards earlier this season, the Suns just signed A.J. Price to play backup point in the midst of a stretch run. Of course, Price has proved to be up to the task, shooting 2-8 with one assist in his first two outings. If I'd told you before the season the Suns would be playing Price, Seth Curry and Earl Barron meaningful minutes in games late in the season you would have probably deduced that something had gone horribly wrong... instead of Phoenix still being in the playoff picture.
The return of Brandon Knight may help assuage these problems, but it might also cause another adjustment period that the team can't withstand right now. The complete disappearance of Gerald Green has left the bench bereft of a real difference maker that can help swing a game. Interestingly enough, T.J. Warren and Archie Goodwin are finally getting the minutes many were clamoring for Hornacek to give them, and have had at least some success, but now they are being thrust into a pressure situation that makes the transition even more difficult.
Why they will
Reason #4: Team effort and defence
The Suns have been leaning on team play and as the playoff race gets even more heated I can see them banding together even more. Six players have been averaging double digits in the last two weeks, all of which have been part of the starting lineup at some point. Also their defence has been great - 6th best defence since the All-Star Break.
The offence hasn't been that shiny - 24th since the break, but as soon as Wednesday our Knight in shining armour as I like to call him will be returning from his two week absence due to his ankle injury. Brandon averaged 15.2 points for the Suns in his five March games before he got injured. His return will provide additional resources on offence and hopefully take some of the pressure off of EB's back.
Why they won't
Reason #5: Fate
The Suns have picked either 13th or 14th in four of the last six drafts. The late lottery is like a warm, fuzzy blanket. Missing the playoffs is a gentle ocean breeze. After a season filled with so much tumult it seems like this would be the fitting ending... not good enough to make the playoffs and not bad enough to draft a potential franchise player. Phoenix is the ultimate bubble team. Hopefully my reverse jinx will work here. Every time I've believed in this team they've let me down and every time I've been ready to write them off they've shown new life. It's been that kind of season.
Why they will
Reason #5: Karma
Come on now universe! We've been through enough. We were suppose to be in the playoffs last year based on our marvelous record and considering the current Eastern standings we deserve to be there this year. Between all the bouncing buzzer beaters, the no-calls, the wrong calls, the un/justified techs, the dissatisfaction and the devastating player trades.. If not the team, we the fans deserve a break.
Nothing like a 4 game winning streak to take the edge off things around here, eh? In addition to the resurgent Suns, what else is tickling your fancy these days?
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