It has been a good week for Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers. After a long and difficult comeback from injury, the eight-time All-Star rejoined the Lakers in action on the road—and showed that he can still play the game.
Nash turned 40 on Friday and celebrated with a win over the Philadelphia 76ers, scoring 19 points, five assists and four rebounds in 28 minutes as a starter.
Nick Young on @SteveNash: "Man, he came to play on his birthday! I can't imagine playing against a rookie at age 40 and schooling!"— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 8, 2014
Afterward, he spoke on NBA TV about the journey back and what it means to him:
A lot of people say, 'Oh, why don’t you just retire.' For me, just to feel it again, just to feel in control again out there, to be part of a team, to make a play for your teammates and to do it on the road, those are all the things I wanted to feel again before it’s all over. I have no idea when that day is going to be. Nothing is guaranteed, considering the state of health I've had. But to be on top of it right now and to be playing and contributing, it feels great.
Asked about his role in the future of the team, Nash acknowledged the challenges posed by injuries, as well as the rebuilding phase that the team is going through, adding that "people start pointing fingers and jumping ship." Still, the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player expressed pride for a group of players, many on one-year deals, who are continuing to listen to the coaches and make adjustments.
Nash’s own adjustments have been extraordinary. The point guard arrived via a sign-and-trade from the Phoenix Suns during the summer of 2012. He was expected to play a significant role for a team that also acquired center Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, Nash fractured his left leg during the second game of the regular season—a harbinger of things to come.
The Lakers continued to suffer key injuries throughout last season, culminating with Kobe Bryant’s ruptured Achilles tendon on April 12, 2013 against the Golden State Warriors shortly before the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
Nash himself suffered a right hip and hamstring that caused him to miss the last eight games of the regular season last year, as well as the final two games of the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers were swept in four games by the San Antonio Spurs. The summer saw the departure of Dwight Howard via free agency to the Houston Rockets, as well as injury rehab for both Nash and Bryant.
This current season has seemed like a case of Groundhog Day, with Bryant returning for six games before fracturing his knee, and Nash also playing just six games before nerve root issues stemming from last season’s injuries cut his comeback short.
Nash has now played two games since beginning his latest comeback, and he is averaging 8.3 points and 5.4 assists for eight games so far this season.
Steve Nash's 19 pts was the most points scored by a 40-year old since Karl Malone scored 20 pts on 4/1/04 for LAL— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 8, 2014
After the win against Philadelphia on Friday, Dave McMenamin for ESPN Los Angeles reflected on the injuries, the grueling rehabilitation and a 40 year-old athlete that is living in the moment:
What he had in L.A. was a chance to enjoy the final pages of the final chapter of his basketball career. What he had were young teammates to whom he could pass on some of the tricks of the trade he picked up in nearly two decades of playing at a Hall of Fame level. What he had was an opportunity to do the thing that he loves.
And there Nash was on his birthday, playing with the energy of a younger man and the wisdom and skill gained over the course of 18 seasons in the NBA, per McMenamin:
I love the game and when you realize it's almost gone, you love it more. You want to make the most of what you have left because it's going to be hopefully 40 or 50 more years of not playing basketball.
At 40, Nash is the oldest active player in the NBA. It would be easy to attribute his physical difficulties to age alone, but then again, the injury curse has touched nearly every member of the Lakers roster this season—from young to old.
As Nash himself readily admits, there are no guarantees ahead. Yet the difficult comeback has been worth it to him. For now, he’s doing the thing he loves, and for basketball fans, it’s an opportunity to see a master at work—for however long this last stretch of road lasts.