Steve Nash is riding off into the sunset. Some of you feel betrayed. Others are happy that he got what he wanted. Maybe you’d rather forget; you’re just glad the Suns got something in return for the two-time MVP.
But history has been written, and the final lines of the Nash story in Phoenix can now be put from pen to paper. The story as a whole? There were some great memories in the last eight years with the Suns. In chronological order, I give you Nash’s biggest moments in the Valley of the Sun.
Steve Nash was drafted 15th overall in the 1996 draft, which is highly considered one of the deepest crops of rookies in recent NBA history. In Phoenix, however, the selection of an unknown player out of the West Coast Conference went over poorly. When announced Danny Ainge was booed, but Nash felt no animosity, saying, “I probably would’ve booed myself too, but I’m going to be a really good player and I’m going to help the team a lot. I have a lot of faith in myself and hopefully they’ll enjoy watching me play,” according to Jeramie McPeek’s story in Fastbreak Magazine. Safe to say the Phoenix fans’ opinion of Nash would be changed.
Struggling to find playing time behind All-Star point guards Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd, Nash was traded after the 1998 draft to the Dallas Mavericks for Pat Garrity and a first-round pick that would become Shawn Marion. This past John Hollinger piece, which shows Nash directing the top five most efficient offenses since 1973-74 — the first two in Dallas — is hindsight-is-20-20 proof that this was just the beginning of a Hall of Fame career. Luckily, the Suns would get another chance with Nash.
Bryan Colangelo, after gutting the roster of hefty-salaried players like Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway, made a run at free agent Steve Nash in the summer of 2004, selling him on a return to Phoenix, which had a young, talented core of Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson. With head coach Mike D’Antoni in his first full season with Phoenix heading into the 2004-05 season, the intrigue of an up-tempo, small-ball offense was tempting for the pass-first but deadly-shooting Nash.
Seven Seconds Or Less, a reinvention of NBA basketball
After more than a decade of physical, low-scoring basketball, the 2004-05 season saw a major rule change to prevent hand-checking on the perimeter. But on top of that, D’Antoni’s system was a perfect match for a quick-triggered Phoenix squad led by Nash, and those combined to turn Phoenix basketball into an NBA-wide revolution. At the center of the Phoenix’s 110 points per game was Nash, who won his first MVP award over the Los Angeles’ Shaquille O’Neal while averaging 15.5 points and 11.5 assists per game. He would go on to win another MVP award the next year, when he entered the ever-so-difficult 50-40-90 club, shooting above 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the foul stripe; he would meet that requirement three more times with Phoenix.
A bloody nose and a meeting with the scoreboard
The 2007 Western semifinals became a microcosm of the rivalry that developed between the Nash-era Suns and the San Antonio Spurs. During Game 1, Nash broke his nose in a collision with Tony Parker and eventually sat out the final seconds as Phoenix fell in a close one. This was the first of a couple of bloody injuries for Nash — who was as tough as he hockey background projected — but in Game 4 of this series, Robert Horry’s hip-check to Nash into the scoreboard resulted in Suns Boris Diaw and Amar’e Stoudemire getting suspended for Game 5, which the Suns also lost. San Antonio would win in six and eventually become the 2007 NBA champions.
Redemption in San Antonio
For all the torture the Spurs caused on Nash and the Suns, nothing felt better than Phoenix sweeping San Antonio in the 2010 Western Conference semis. With a 3-0 lead and ready to close out Game 4 in Texas, past memories of bad luck came rushing back in the third quarter. Hit by Tim Duncan’s elbow, Nash’s eye begins bleeding and it is quickly closed up by the training staff. But upon his return, Nash’s eye swells shut and he strains his facial muscles to see anything. It doesn’t matter — he kills San Antonio with a three-pointer off the bat, a couple twisting shots in the lane, and a number of assists, including a no-look — he doesn’t have an eye anyway — pass to Jared Dudley for an And 1. The Suns put their demons to rest and advance past the Spurs.
Age is just a number
In 2012, Nash becomes the oldest player outside of Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone to be selected to an All-Star team at the age of 38. His final season with Phoenix ends with Nash averaging 10.7 assists per game with a depleted Phoenix roster, and that average is second in the league behind only Boston’s Rajon Rondo.
One for the record books
On April 21, 2012, Nash moves ahead of The Big O, Oscar Robertson for the fifth-most career assists in NBA history, validating his place as one of the best point guards in the history of the league. That came after he broke Kevin Johnson’s franchise career assist mark in February of 2012 . But the honor goes beyond numbers; Nash’s teammates throughout the years believe that his work ethic and preparation are not only what made him last, but also made him one of the greatest.
One last ‘thank you’
Most Phoenix fans thought it might be the last we see of Steve Nash in the purple and orange. The 2011-12 season’s final game against, who else, the San Antonio Spurs gave the point guard his final farewell. With a meaningless outcome, Alvin Gentry toyed with the crowd, which rose to its feet chanting “We want Steve!” in a moment that went beyond the game at hand. Finally, the coach caved, throwing in Nash for a single possession to settle the crowd as we watched the two-time MVP walk off the court for one last time as a Sun.
Tags: Steve Nash