Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers: The Day His Lovable Underdog Status Died
In fact, in some circles, where fans had once held out their arms pining for his embrace, they may be more likely to shun him, perhaps even matching folded arms with a few reluctant boos.
On Canada Day, July 1, nearly every Canadian and their hockey-playing grandma was hoping Nash would sign up with the Raptors. Toronto laid a huge sum of American cash on the contract tables and considering how difficult it is to manufacture a championship (LeBron, Wade and Bosh's machinations notwithstanding), many thought Nash might be in the mood for such a lucrative homecoming.
It was on America's Independence Day, however, with fireworks booming in the background, that NBA fans learned that Nash will now most likely be ending his career not in the country in which he grew up, but in the state where he played his first American ball.
California's Santa Clara University was the only U.S. institution that laid eyes on Nash while he was honing his point guard prowess at a high school in British Columbia, and in college it was in those temperate Californian confines where Nash improbably first drew attention from NBA scouts.
Sixteen years later, though, no one, including Nash, thought that he would end up back in California as a professional.
Prior to lining up at the starting gates of free agency, Nash was forthright that he could not envision sprinting into the arms of the Lakers. He was clear that his old-school sensibilities made him reluctant to even consider suiting up with that squad.
And the longstanding rivalry between the Suns and Lakers (which has petered in recent years only because of the Suns' descent out of playoff contention) made such a possible move too difficult to stomach for Suns fans.
Nash no doubt will lose some respect with this decision—even if only while fans are in the initial throes of grief. The long-term impact will have to do with Nash's image.
Even though he is a two-time MVP, Nash has been a lovable loser. Up till now, his championship aspirations have been stymied by one stroke of bad luck after another—despite his never-say-die tenacity.
He is no longer hapless now, though. Nor is he helpless.
Nash may get his championship not by leading an overachieving squad with few marquee names, but with a team led by one of the best to ever play the game, Kobe Bryant. Add a couple of All-Star seven-footers to the mix in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (unless the latter is dealt for Dwight Howard), and you can kiss Nash's underdog status goodbye.
Still, it will not be like Nash is just riding coattails. The Lakers have floundered the last two seasons, and they've been missing a final piece to their Western Conference puzzle. If they win with Nash, then his legacy will not only shine with a ring, but he will be remembered as a game-changer in L.A.
And before criticism of Nash's decision to go to an already-stacked rival becomes too acrimonious, it is important to remember that this move was predicated in part on Nash's desire to be near Phoenix where his children live with his ex-wife.
Nash is no longer an underdog, but he is still a great guy.
That does not mean, however, that this Canadian, Phoenix Sun-loving fan will be able to cheer for him with the same unbridled enthusiasm I once did. (Still reeling from the news, I'm not sure I will be able to cheer for him with the Lakers at all.)
But somehow I think all those millions, along with a chance to play with one of the best teams in the league and, most importantly, be near his beloved family, will help Nash deal with the loss of a possibly diminished fanbase for whom he no longer symbolizes a tireless battle against the odds.
Good luck, my Canadian brother! You are no longer going to need as much of it as you once did.
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