Steve Nash has never been to the Finals, but that should not define his career or this season


PHOENIX — Steve Nash doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him.

Sure, he has played in more NBA playoff games than any player in the history of the league never to reach the Finals (118), but publicly he’s not sweating it.

“I have a pretty great life,” Nash said the day after Kobe and the Lakers ensured this streak would stay intact for another year. “I had one scholarship offer, so to be in the conference finals for the fourth time is a lot more than I bargained for when I started playing this game. I think also a couple of those conference finals were really the championship series. A lot of it is just talk, and I’m fine with it.”

The best players in this league are defined in terms of championships. Titles are often the difference between going down as a great player and an all-time great. In a historical sense, a fifth ring would boost Kobe up the list of all-time greats because championships are what they lace them up for to begin with.

There have been many great players in this league without a ring (Barkley, Malone, Ewing to name a few) and many great role players with a multitude of rings (Horry, Kerr, Fisher). As awesome as Barkley, Malone and Ewing all were, there’s always that major “but” on their sparkling resumes, and at least all of them made a Finals.

Alvin Gentry feels terrible for his star point guard, who was emotional in the locker room after Game 6 perhaps sensing this could be his final shot to be so close to a Finals appearance.

“I do feel for him personally,” Gentry said. “I don’t know if you can define anyone because of that right there. Sometimes you’re in a situation where you’re just not able to win a championship. We’ve had a great run here. Since Steve’s gotten here we’ve been to three Western Conference Finals. There’s not a whole lot of people who can say that, and we just haven’t been able to get over the hump.

“It doesn’t always work out. I don’t think that has any bearing on the way you think about Steve or the way he looks or is perceived. There’s a lot of people. Dan Marino didn’t win a championship. You can go to all the sports and talk about guys that didn’t win a championship, but I don’t think that has anything to do with their legacy or what goes on there.”

When Nash decided to re-sign with the Suns, the national perception was that he didn’t care about winning. He appeared to be heading back to a cushy situation where he could play a fun style in a city he enjoys and then ride off into the sunset.

But that’s not what went down. Nash’s belief in this situation was rewarded when the Suns were one of the final four teams playing with a team built in Nash’s image. Nash’s belief in his teammates inspired the rest of the squad to reach its potential and really be that good, with Nash leading every step of the way.

In hindsight Nash should be commended for not pulling a Malone and ditching his franchise for a shot at a cheap ring. Nash always speaks about it being about the journey, and I don’t know how great of a journey it would be to join a top contender as a hired gun. What Nash did with this Suns team — and especially what he almost did with them — really means something.

“I still believed in the pieces that were already here, I believed in our young guys and I believed in the spirit of our group and our management,” Nash said. “I believed in being a part of that more so than how much money we were going to spend and how much money we spend in the free agent market.

“I think we proved to everyone and ourselves that we could get to that level. I’m really proud of what we accomplished this year. … Never underestimate the power of a group of people if they really sacrifice and work every day to get better, so I look forward to next year.”

In a way the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns were a microcosm of Steve Nash’s career. They entered the season with the expectations of a 6-foot-3 Canadian with one scholarship offer, but then became a first-round draft pick through their hot start. Then their mediocre middle is comparable to the nondescript first four years of his career, while Phoenix’s furious finish and dominant first two rounds are like the way Nash has gotten better with age and played his way into a Hall-of-Fame career.

Yet as with everything in Nash’s career, things fell short of an NBA Finals appearance, but maybe that’s OK. Sure, the ultimate goal is to play for and win championships, and Nash has never done that.

But I can hardly imagine many basketball players enjoying the journey as much as Steve Nash enjoyed 2009-10, a year in which he played with an underdog team that he called the most unselfish of his career (and that’s saying something), a close-knit squad with an Einsteinian level of chemistry that shocked the league all season.

“To build a team in professional basketball that can exceed so many expectations as greatly as ours did this year is a lot of pride,” Nash said.

Steve Nash, whose fun year will continue as a World Cup correspondent for, put up All-NBA numbers (16.5 and 11) while starting an All-Star Game, winning a Skills Challenge, lighting the Olympic torch in his home province and playing the style of basketball he most enjoys playing.

Steve Nash had a pretty good season. No, he is not battling the Boston Celtics for a chance at a title right now. Maybe he won’t ever play in a Finals, and maybe he will ultimately be in the Barkley-Malone-Ewing wing of the Hall of Fame.

But only one team wins the championship every year. Sure, Nash might not be remembered along with the numerous other MVPs to win a ring, but sometimes the little things like immensely appreciating your teammates, playing unselfish ball to the core, surpassing even your own wildest expectations and enjoying every second of that journey matters just as much.