Dwight Howard and Steve Nash made their debut in purple and gold at the Lakers media day, or as the Lakers call it, just another Monday. Even though it's a day that's seemingly meaningless, it was hard not to look at the pictures that came out and not get excited.
Following that excitement came an endless rush of questions rushing to my mind—the most important of which surrounded the pressure that will inevitably close in on the new-look Los Angeles Lakers: obviously Kobe Bryant is under pressure to get his sixth ring, Nash is pressured for his first and Howard is basically supposed to turn into the future of the Los Angeles Lakers overnight.
From there it seems pretty simple to determine that of the two big newcomers Howard is under more pressure to succeed right away...right?
On the surface I would have to agree, Howard is now forever going to be linked to Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, compared to them on end and once he sits down to retire, it'll be their legacy that determines his own legacy. You've got to imagine that Howard's already got a point against him just based on the fact that he doesn't have a name anywhere near as cool as the previous three guys.
Howard was brought in to bring the team a title. It's going to be a team effort, for sure, but swapping out Andrew Bynum for Howard was a big risk for a team to take, and only a title will really make a successful season.
Once you get down to the core of the issue, however, it's quite obvious that the pressure falls more on Nash than it does Howard.
Superficially, it's easy to look at Nash and see that he's a 38-year-old starting point guard in a league where the average age of a player is over a decade younger than Nash. That, combined with the fact that his legacy may ride on whether or not he wins a title and that he's now expected to run the offense for the Lakers in the center of a media hurriquakenado—that would have anybody feeling a bit of heat.
For a second just imagine that you're Steve Nash. You woke up pretty early in the morning, took a look at your two MVP trophies on the bedside table, probably just scarfed down a gluten-free breakfast and are getting ready for a morning workout.
For years you were the good guy of the NBA. Loyalty to a franchise that was starting to flounder was more than anyone could have asked of you, but you stayed. Now, however, you find yourself playing for the most (classically) hated team in the NBA. Fans might not be turning on you but there's definitely a different feeling swirling around.
Meanwhile the team you just signed a three-year deal with (you know, to keep you in the league until you're 41 at least) just so happens to be the center of the basketball universe. The millions of Lakers fans have expectations that can only be met with a title. You've got to hope that your body continues to let you produce at a high enough level as to not let these people down.
Howard, on the other hand, is still a very young man. He's got years ahead of him to get these fans in LA on his side, and he's not even supposed to be the guy to be relied on to win ball games for them yet. Kobe still has the honor of being the man on the Lakers, Howard is just waiting for a torch to be passed.
During an interview with Craig Sager, Nash may have let in on a bit to an obvious thought, but a realization nonetheless: "Opportunity is finite, you can't play forever and you don't get to play with great players and great teammates forever."
Nash has to be putting an immense amount of pressure on himself at this point. He's on the verge of retirement and this is the beginning of his last shot at an NBA title as a meaningful member of a basketball team. The one thing he has yet to do in the league is the one thing that people expect of great players.
He may be in the belly of the beast with hair more tamed than we like to see it, wearing colors that he should never be wearing, but it's hard not to root for a guy like Nash.
Let's just hope that the pressure doesn't get to him and he can continue to play the fun game we know and love.
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