"Survive the day."
That, according to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, has been Steve Nash's mantra throughout this most trying of seasons for the future Hall of Famer. It's one well suited to Nash's struggle to play the game he loves, despite the most diligent efforts of Father Time and Mother Nature to the contrary.
Nash has, indeed, survived, through tibial fractures and nerve root irritation, in addition to the myriad other maladies that come with being ancient in basketball years. If nothing else, he survived long enough to do something that very few NBA pros ever do: play on his 40th birthday.
And not just play, but shine. Not just survive, but thrive—to the tune of a team-high 19 points (on 8-of-15 shooting), four rebounds, five assists and just two turnovers in 28 minutes amid the Los Angeles Lakers' 112-98 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Nash's scoring exploits put him on par with just one other player in league history:
Steve Nash led Lakers with 19 points on his 40th birthday; only other player to lead his team in scoring on 40th birthday was Jason Kidd.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 8, 2014
The calculating Canadian looked comfortable on the court, just as he did during his return in L.A.'s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier in the week. His shot looked relatively sharp, as his patented step-back jumpers would attest. He moved around the floor without incident and even leapt into the paint to challenge a shot by Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams in the third quarter.
But Nash has always been known best for his wizardry with the ball. To that end, the NBA's eldest statesman didn't disappoint. He found his anonymous teammates with ease, most notably whipping a behind-the-back bounce pass to Wesley Johnson for a corner three in the third.
Nash was even responsible for the highlight of the night, when he juked Evan Turner out of his shoes with a crafty crossover before finishing with a scoop at the hoop.
Not surprisingly, Nash enjoyed his age-defying evening, via Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:
From @SteveNash, a winner on his 40th birthday: "Had a blast."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) February 8, 2014
He certainly wasn't the only one who did, though.
The victory itself was L.A.'s second in a row, the first coming two nights earlier, when the Lakers outlasted the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite being reduced by injuries and fouls to a skeleton squad. The Purple and Gold hadn't put together consecutive wins since mid-January, when they stunned the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors in the thick of their annual Grammy road trip.
To that end, Nash's contributions were a welcome reprieve for a team and a fanbase unaccustomed to the degree of misery that's sadly become commonplace in Lakerland this season. At 18-32, the Lakers remain far from playoff contention. If anything, they've all but sealed a trip to their first draft lottery since 2005 and just their sixth campaign without postseason play in franchise history.
Nash, then, certainly isn't playing for a championship—not this season, anyway. Nor is he motivated by any need to pad his resume; his two MVPs, 10,292 assists and centrality to Mike D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns from the mid-2000s all but guarantee that he won't need more than one ballot before he's enshrined in Springfield, Mass.
Rather, what's driving Nash now is what has fueled him throughout his 18 seasons in the NBA: his love of the game, per Ding:
Nash: "I love the game. And when you realize it's almost gone, you love it more." #40— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) February 8, 2014
It's that love for the game that kept Nash going through the darkest days of his seemingly never-ending rehab. It's that love that helped Nash stave off retirement, even though the team to which he returned was already too far gone to satisfy his desire for that ever-elusive championship.
The money doesn't hurt, though Nash hardly has to shake down his own couch cushions for loose change. He's already made close to $140 million from his NBA contracts and is due to rake in another $9.7 million in 2014-15, per Spotrac.com.
Still, two games of solid ball hardly guarantee that Nash will be able to earn those final millions. He and the Lakers will have to monitor his minutes and his movements carefully in order to stretch whatever gas Nash has left in the tank.
If they do, Nash will have every chance to reward those who've stuck by him over the past year-and-a-half—fans, teammates, coaches and front-office folks alike—with some steady (if not occasionally vintage) play at the point.
"I've just put so much time into trying to get healthy to repay the Lakers for bringing me in and the fans for being patient," Nash told NBA TV after the win in Philly. "Being able to move freely the last two games made it all worth it."
"It all" being the pain, the frustration and the sacrifice through which he's battled on his way back to the hardwood. He survived "it all" not only out of respect and reverence for those whom he came to L.A. to serve, but also out of a "selfish" love of the game.
A love that has Nash, like Gloria Gaynor before him, doing everything in his power to make sure that he can and will survive the day.
Steve Nash is back! Let's rejoice on Twitter!