Steve Nash’s Greatest Assist
Steve Nash called it a career this weekend. In many ways, it felt like he was already gone since he hadn’t played a meaningful minute since joining the Los Angeles Lakers a few seasons ago. But Nash is so beloved across the league that we were all holding out hope for some sort of return, even if he had all but admitted that it would never happen.
His Grantland video series, The Finish Line, offered an intimate look at the end of a career.
We often get to peak behind the scenes during the prime of a player’s career, but it is rare that the public is given an insider’s look at the decline. Nash aired his vulnerability and displayed many of the traits that — in addition to his on-court gifts — have made him an NBA darling for the past decade-plus.
It’s been said many times, but the NBA is just a much more personal league than the other major sports in the United States. It’s why — in my eyes — it has the best blogger and social media coverage. We know the players’ faces, and we hear them talk on the court. It was the league most in need of breaking down the barriers of traditional media coverage so this side of the NBA could be explored and popularized. And there was a legion of young, passionate people who did so as soon as self-publishing technology allowed amateurs to shatter the old model.
Some of the timing was coincidental, but it was fortunate that Nash and the 7 Seconds or Less Suns came along at the same time WordPress and Blogger popped up. Back in those days, there wasn’t much sports coverage outside of the mainstream.
Then there was.
We got the likes of OG TrueHoop and Clipperblog for alternative takes on the sport. 82 Games and Basketball Prospectus filled the nascent analytics niche. Then there was the wackier world of Basketbawful, The Blowtorch, and YAY! Sports.
Joy was a hallmark of all the best early outlets, and it’s hard to separate their rise from the rise of Nash’s Suns. The Sacramento Kings had paved the way out of the the defensive-minded, isolation-heavy, Kobe-and-Shaq hegemonic world. But it was Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash that pushed it to the next level. They made the NBA fun in a way that it hadn’t been since Michael Jordan was ruling. And even more than MJ’s reign, this was an enjoyable sport to watch again, with an egalitarian style that brought more smiles than the era of Jordan worship.
In that respect, Nash’s influence on the league goes so much further than even his impact on changing the style of play. Those Phoenix teams inspired the likes of Gregg Popovich and Stan Van Gundy to create a more fluid, spread offense, and it has only intensified since then, as everyone from Erik Spoelstra to Mike Budenholzer to Steve Kerr has implemented similar tactics.
The league was wowed by Nash and stole his style. And the more we saw about his personality — the goofy commercials, the summer soccer games, the unusual training style, the grittiness — the more he came to embody the passion and joy that has become the defining characteristic of how new media covers the league.
People still love to argue whether wee lil’ Steve Nash deserves to be a two-time MVP. The racial component of his popularity is also an intriguing debate. And for us not-so-young-anymore writers who cut our teeth in the mid-2000s, it’s simply sad to see another one of the old guys head out to pasture.
But more than even the players better than him, Nash’s time in Phoenix marked a shift in how the league plays — and how we watch.