Former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni pulled himself up out of his current muck long enough to offer a little lecture when he passed through Phoenix on Steve Nash homecoming night with the surprisingly lowly Lakers.
What good times those were in Phoenix, D’Antoni reflected.
Far better than he even knew at the time.
“Just enjoy it more and appreciate it more,” D’Antoni said wishfully as he looked back on averaging 58 regular-season victories with the Suns from 2004-08. “And maybe be a little bit more aware of how good it was.”
D’Antoni missed the people around him then, the way the players listened, the games they won in his way, even the warmth of the sun on his skin all the time.
Nash gets it. He knows what D’Antoni means.
Valley of the Sun? It was nothing but the absolute peak.
“The best years of my life,” Nash said.
Nash said the makeover of the Suns’ roster and Alvin Gentry exiting as head coach last month didn’t change the significance of the return.
That was apparent in the way Nash embraced Suns Public Relations Vice President, Julie Fie, when he first saw her, and then how he scurried around before and after the game to sign jerseys and do favors for the people who helped him over the years.
“There are the security guards, ball boys and season-ticket holders,” Nash said. “There are a lot of familiar faces here, regardless of the coaches and players that have departed. In that respect, it does feel like coming home.”
Nash’s magic has always been being the giver in a league made up mostly of takers, but he is also uniquely good at time and space—on the court, in the locker room, uniting a team.
Throughout 10 years in Phoenix over two different stints, Nash so often savored or seized moments just right. He did what D’Antoni was talking about very well—enjoying a special spotlight—and it’s not easy to appreciate what you have...in any walk of life.
We take people for granted. We ignore good health and then dwell on the bad. We have a hard time realizing when we’ve really got it going on because of what else we might be able to start up.
Everything changes, especially in an NBA that is always going to be more business than family.
“I thought I’d retire in Phoenix,” Nash said. “But it’s a difficult business to make any sort of predictions like that.”
Right about now, with a team whose highest-paid players are clear non-stars (Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye) and whose best chance to surprise anyone is if flighty Michael Beasley decides to take his craft seriously, the Suns are at a point where they know this is a valley.
To find another peak, they had to accept this is as a business and take those four draft picks and the $3 million that Nash was offering them via sign-and-trade—as unseemly as it was to help the rival Lakers—and then to choose the guy in Lindsey Hunter who had a better chance to be a great coach, not the franchise favorite with the great tan, Dan Majerle.
When it’s a bottom-line world of dollars and championships, it’s understandably hard to savor the good times when you’re winning a lot of games and smiling next to some great people.
But as D’Antoni and Suns fans alike are realizing these days, next time the good times roll, they’ll try to enjoy it even more.
Kevin Ding has been a sportswriter covering the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers for OCRegister.com since 1999. His column on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was judged the No. 1 column of 2011 by the Pro Basketball Writers Association. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.