This season of Suns basketball sure did suck, didn’t it?
I mean, from the lockout and not knowing if we’re even going to have a season, to the Suns’ horrific start, to then missing the playoffs in a rather excruciating way in the last week of the season, it was tough all around. Yet I watched as much of it as I could.
And Steve Nash is the reason why.
The lockout did a number on me. While I was very excited for basketball to come back, there was definitely a stigma attached to it. It felt weird. Like it was still basketball, but it didn’t mean as much. I was starting to feel like I had in the years before Steve made his return to Phoenix, where I didn’t care about the NBA, and wouldn’t even blink if I missed a playoff buzzer beater. But, by the end of this season, I was still one of those people wanting to scream out “WE WANT STEVE” in the last game of the year against the Spurs.
I’ll take you back even further to explain how Steve helped bring me back to the NBA. From 1999-2003, I was in high school, playing basketball for the school team. The first lockout had just finished, Antonio McDyess had just screwed over the Suns, and the Lakers were winning three championships in a row. When we throw in the fact that scoring was low (the 2003 Spurs – Nets final was horrific), I was much more focused on my own team, and the Suns weren’t very good, so I could not care less about the NBA at that time. I shrugged off Derek Fisher’s amazing shot with .4 seconds left chalking it up to, “Well that’s the Lakers, who cares.” I didn’t even realize that the Nets made the finals two straight years. That all changed starting on July 14, 2004, when MVSteve made his return to Phoenix.
It was the passing, the shooting, the flair for the dramatic, and the way that the 04-05 Suns made basketball fun again sucked me in. Instead of watching Ben Wallace and Shaq pound each other in the low post to finish with an 87-75 final, I got to watch Amar’e Stoudemire dunk on a perfectly thrown pass on a pick and roll in a game where the Suns scored 120 points.
To me, Steve Nash is the embodiment of why I think basketball is the greatest sport in the world. There are so many athletes out there who are freaks of nature, and use their athleticism to dominate. (LeBron James comes to mind.) However, the best players are those who figure out how to use the chemistry between the players on the floor to maximize talent. Nash is quite possibly the best of all time at this.
There is no other sport where chemistry plays such a big role in how 5 people interact. The more you play with someone, the more you get to know their tendencies and how to shut them down. The real challenge comes from learning a new way to score, or a new way to defend them when they figure out a new way to score.
Steve’s the shining example of chemistry. This season was a great example of that. With no training camp, and a limited preseason, the Suns struggled along to a 12-19 record to start the year. Once Nash had figured out the chemistry, he turned Shannon Brown (Repeat: SHANNON BROWN) into a viable starter in the NBA. He turned a career backup in Marcin Gortat into a borderline all-star and I’m convinced he’s the only reason that Sebastian Telfair had a resurgence this year. Playing behind Steve and learning from him seems to have that effect on you. I can’t even fully describe how he does it, but it seems that every player he plays with has a career year. That can’t be a coincidence.
There was one moment in particular this year that summed up Nash’s brilliance. In the fourth quarter of a must-win game against the Clippers, Nash drove down the lane and was met by Blake Griffin. For perspective here, Griffin can jump higher from a standing jump than Nash could on one of those trampolines the Suns Gorilla uses in halftime shows, and Griffin had every intention of blocking Nash’s shot into next week. Somehow, someway, Nash was able to make an underhanded layup, lofting it over Blake’s outstretched hand, off nearly the top of the backboard and in for a crucial bucket in the win. Nash has always been able to figure out a way to excel, no matter who is in his way, or no matter what his physical limitations may be.
As it stands now, last Wednesday may have been the last game Steve Nash will play as a Phoenix Sun. All the brilliance, all the fun, and all the highlights might be replaced with Channing Frye chucking up more bricks than a masonry. Nash has stated that he would like to play for three more years and coming back to the Suns is a possibility if they improve the roster. Unfortunately, I just don’t see this happening. There aren’t a ton of great free agents out there, and it’s not guaranteed that we’ll get any of them.
Regardless of what happens, I want to thank Steve Nash for bringing me back to the NBA. Some of my fondest basketball memories will be of the run between 2004 and 2010 that Nash spearheaded. He has been the most entertaining player I’ve seen in my life, and a genuinely nice human being. If Nash does go off to another team, I just hope that he finds that championship ring he’s looking for.
He deserves it. If for nothing else, for bringing a basketball lover back to the NBA.