PHOENIX — The chants sprung up organically with about five and a half minutes left in a season and possibly a legendary Suns career, slowly building to a crescendo that resonated throughout US Airways Center.
“We want Steve, we want Steve, we want Steve!”
Fans leapt to their feet and even teammates pleaded for one last appearance from the Suns’ leader.and
The cheers only ceased for a pair of timeouts until finally Alvin Gentry had no choice but to oblige and send in the Suns’ two-time MVP for one final ovation from a fan base that loves him so.
So Nash ripped off his warmups as for one last time “Number 13, Steeeeeeeve Nash” was introduced to an adoring Suns crowd before he promptly turned the ball over and exited to a series of hugs on the bench with a buzz still engulfing the arena.
If this was really it, what a moment it was.
“It was obviously amazing to get that type of reception and support,” Nash said, fighting back tears. “It’s very special because it’s not something that I asked for or imagined to get that type of spontaneous reaction.
“It’s authentic, the relationship that I thought we had, so it’s great. It really feels special and the fans have been phenomenal. It meant a lot to me to play in a city like this for as long as I have and to feel important to the fans and the community, and I just feel like a very lucky guy.”
Added, “I haven’t been a part of anything like that. It just shows you the respect they have for him. He’s had a hell of a career. He’s probably one of the most unselfish basketball players I’ve ever played with. He makes everyone better, but it just shows you all the hard work he’s put in here and that the fans here in Phoenix definitely appreciate it.”
Dudley’s not alone. Spontaneous fan outbursts like that come along all too seldom, especially in this city.
In a world of contrived cheers, T-shirt cannons and pumped in music, this was special. It just felt different, as if the fans could sense that this eight-year relationship was really coming to an end.
As Nash said later, he hasn’t really had a chance to ponder whether this was it and what it means because only 24 hours earlier the Suns “were playing for our lives.”
The loss in Utah was supposed to render this game meaningless — especially with Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Popovich all away from the team tonight — yet this game was anything but that.
That feeling started early as Nash received a generous ovation when he was introduced.
Then in the third quarter he raised the Suns’ intensity level a notch and seemed to be giving this franchise one final dose ofexcellence as he scored eight points on 4-for-5 shooting and dished three assists while running the pick and roll to perfection as always.
“First, I must admit that I’m not the most sentimental person in the world,” Nash said. “It’s something I shy away from more than try to soak it up and get emotional and all that stuff. To be honest, I really didn’t get a chance to think about it. If this were to be my last game, it would be a night I’ll remember. It’ll be an important night for me.”
Nash went on to provide more ambivalence as he answered what Phoenix needs to add to become more competitive (another playmaker, either a big or a small, or someone who can get you 20 a night) and what he will look for in his free agent destination (winning and a good environment).
We all know it’s dubious whether the Suns can give him the former but tonight proved beyond a reasonable doubt they already do offer the latter.
Perhaps the outpouring of love from the Suns faithful will serve as the recruiting pitch Nash needed to see how much everyone really cares about him, but really it felt like a going away party.
Nash has not said any such thing and management still wants Nash for as long as he wants to be here, but even a night after a crushing season-ending defeat, the fans just knew. This just felt like the end of one of the best eras in Suns basketball.
There will be plenty of time to delve into whether it’s prudent to build around a soon-to-be 39-year-old point guard and all that entails, but no matter where you fall on the Nash question you couldn’t help but get caught up in the emotion of the evening if you call yourself a Suns fan.
This is Steve Nash, the two-time MVP from Canada who led the some of the best offenses in NBA history and guided the Suns to the precipice of a championship. This is the superstar who rather than holding his franchise hostage or bolting to greener pastures in the middle of the night stayed the course and led a crew of role players to a .500 record.
Steve Nash defines what this franchise has always been about with his free-wheeling unselfish style, shooting prowess and, alas, lack of defense.
It may have been an impromptu party, but it felt like a going away party for the face of Phoenix Suns basketball for the past eight years.
And although perhaps it’s fitting, this time Nash’s night couldn’t be ruined by a Spurs victory.
- Before the game won the Dan Majerle Hustle Award for his gritty play this season, an honor that I feel is well-deserved. Said Bassy, “That means a lot, the Dan Majerle Hustle Award, which is really cool for me because as a point guard you want to be the guy that sets the example of how to play hard, go out and be competitive every night, and that’s what that trophy symbolizes.”
- I was so swept up in the moment that I hardly noticed the Spurs went on a 13-0 to take control of a game they trailed by six as the Nash chants emanated. Said Gentry of the Spurs’ 110-106 victory in which the bench played heavy minutes and finished the contest, “I wanted to see if we could win a game with Sebastian and those other guys in. that’s why I left those guys in. It was a game where they could get a lot of playing time and a lot of experience so I thought that was most important.”
- The Suns finished with at least a .500 record for the seventh time in Nash’s eight seasons. … The Suns were 12-5 at home after the break. … Nash tied a career high by shooting 53.2 percent, the highest by a point guard since Tony Parker in 2005-06. … Nash led the league with 41 double-digit assist games. … Marcin Gortat became the eighth player in franchise history to average double-figure boards. He also joined Shawn Marion as the only players in franchise history to average a 15-10 with 1.5 blocks. … Telfair scored 20 on 8-for-13 shooting, the second time he’s done that in 12 days against the Spurs. He had not previously scored 20 twice in a season since 2008-09.