The NBA’s Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis in 2001 and MLB’s Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals after the 2004 season, but Canadian Steve Nash might reverse that north-to-south athletic drain by making a verbal agreement with the Toronto Raptors in an act that would be fueled by patriotism and a three-year contract fat with American greenbacks.
South of the Canadian border, there is some head-shaking that he is even considering this option.
After all, the only gap in Nash’s elite NBA resume is a championship, and that absence is glaring in an era when the definitive test for a legendary legacy is increasingly thought to be a ring.
Nash has never seen the NBA Finals, so some thought he might set off from a Phoenix Sun-set riding a Miami Heat-wave to the glory land.
Or that he would at least match a frank interest in a strong career-closing salary with a desire to find a club that has a shot at making a deep playoff run. If Deron Williams were to re-sign with the Nets, the Dallas Mavericks seem like good candidates for Nash on those terms.
The woeful Raptors do not.
To say that the odds would be slim that Nash would win a championship in Toronto is like saying Tim Tebow may not have the highest completion percentage in the NFL next year.
In short, the Raptors wouldn't threaten the elite teams of the Eastern Conference, but they might make the playoffs with Nash directing the offense. Nash has proven his uncanny ability to make teammates better.
As Marc Stein of ESPN reported that the Raptors were going to dig deep into franchise pockets to persuade the 38-year-old to take his talents to Toronto, some balked at the idea that a classy veteran would choose money over championships, but those dismissals ignored how largely the Canadian connection has loomed over Nash’s career.
Most Americans don’t understand the heights to which Nash can take basketball in Canada as a Raptor because they do not know the depth of insecurity that develops when you live next to a behemoth of athletic prowess.
Growing up in an eastern Canadian province, Nova Scotia, American sports seemed to me like a realm that was not only far superior to anything we could ever achieve up north, but even inherently so. It was as if Canadians had deficient athletic DNA—at least in the sports I cared the most about, like tennis and basketball.
As a kid, the only models I had of Canadians getting a peek at the NBA were players like 7’0" Bill Wennington, and I had never met anyone that size in person, so I just assumed he was a freakish anomaly.
By contrast, Nash is a skinny 6’1" point guard (boosted to 6’3" on his official NBA listing) with a diverse skill-set. He has captured the highest individual honors of the NBA by tirelessly harnessing what his compatriots like to think are a collection of Canadian dispositions.
Many Canadians prize the life of the mind, and Nash is a cerebral player who looks at the basketball court like a chessboard, maneuvering teammates to the right spots at the right moments.
Conversely, Canadians also generally like hockey and all the gritty, physical contact emblematic of the sport. On the court, Nash has demonstrated heroic grit by bouncing back from opponent shots to the eye and nose, and even a hockey-like body-check against NBA boards.
Perhaps above all else, Canadians like to laugh, and especially at themselves.
On and off the court, Nash continues to hone the self-deprecating comedic timing that has made humor one of Canada’s most steady exports to the U.S. (think Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Martin Short, Ryan Reynolds and the like).
Nash’s embodiment of these congeries helps explain why Canadians responded so swiftly after he admitted that returning to the Phoenix Suns, a franchise for which he has been the face and heart for eight years, was not a “home run.”
On Canada Day, July 1, Canadians made the Twittersphere tremble as they clamored for Nash to run home.
“Home” is a complicated term in Nash’s case. He was born in South Africa, but his family moved to Canada when he was only eight months old. They ultimately settled in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, where Nash demonstrated an early facility for multiple sports, including hockey and soccer.
By his teenage years he was increasingly taking off hockey skates and setting his soccer cleats aside to lace up basketball kicks.
Nash was the cream of the crop of high-school ballers in British Columbia, grabbing player of the year honors for the province in his senior year. But if a Canadian swishes a three-pointer with no Americans around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Despite his wicked crossover dribble, Nash had minimal crossover appeal. Indeed only one institution south of the border came courting with a coveted Division I scholarship.
Nash matriculated at Santa Clara University in Southern California in 1992 and made the most of the rare Canadian opportunity to shine on the comparatively bright lights of an American stage.
Still, even the most fervent Nash fans could never have imagined that one day fellow-Victoria crooner Nelly Furtado would evoke his name on a musical track, posing a prideful Canadian question to a global audience: “Is your game MVP like Steve Nash?”
Nash began his NBA career with the Suns, but it was with the Mavs where he first made All-Star strides. Still, owner Mark Cuban passed on matching a Suns’ contract that ultimately lured Nash back to Arizona in 2004. It was reported that Cuban thought Nash was too old for such a hefty investment.
Eight years later, that old point guard had accumulated individual and team accolades that included back-to-back MVP awards and three Western Conference finals appearances.
He had also captivated Canadians from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, with Canadian television adding Phoenix Suns variety to the steady diet of Toronto Raptor coverage.
For Canadians who were also Suns fans, the combination was thrilling.
For some, though, it was only partially satisfying to watch a Canadian excelling in well-heeled exile for an American squad. Canadian franchises have had trouble attracting talent and keeping it, no matter how lucrative the offers.
Vince Carter burned his bridges in the latter portion of his time in Toronto; Steve Francis refused to go north when he was drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies, and Chris Bosh traded Toronto winters for Miami’s heat.
So, yes Nash would be cashing in by accepting a three-year-deal of $36 million from the Raptors.
But more importantly, he would demonstrate that through his various crossings and dwellings—from his upbringing in British Columbia to a college career in California, professional life in Dallas and Phoenix and summer residence in New York—his heart has carried Canada the entire time.
Like many Canadians who have lived the bulk of their professional lives in the United States, he has seen much of what this fantastic country has to offer—not the least of which is the generosity of those countless Americans who embrace people from abroad.
Yet he has never forgotten his Canadian roots, and signing with the Raptors would be the most dramatic (but obviously not the only) means of expressing that connection.
A decision to join the Raptors and most likely end his career in Canada would fill a host of Canadian hearts, young and old, with hope, expectation and pride.
Steve Nash—eight-time NBA All-Star, two-time MVP and recently-named general manager of Canada Basketball—would be coming home, and on Canada Day even that possibility was something to cheer about.