Every NBA star should go out on his own terms, but there are some legends who deserve that luxury even more than others. They're the ones who spent their careers entertaining fans and earning individual and team honors, all while never toeing the line of controversy.
Steve Nash is one of those guys.
Ever since he was the 15th player selected in the 1996 NBA draft, the Canadian point guard has been one of the Association's model citizens. To get his career rolling, it may have taken Nash a few seasons and a trade to the Dallas Mavericks, but he stayed away from negative publicity all the while.
In 2001, he established his own charity foundation, and a handful of years later, he was granted the NBA's citizenship award. Other than his political advocacy rubbing some the wrong way, Nash has elicited more smiles than frowns throughout his time playing professional basketball.
The Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers don't exactly like each other. They both play in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference, and there's generally some level of animosity between the two fanbases.
However, when Nash decided he wanted to play in a purple-and-gold uniform after his time in the desert had come to a close, there was still a general feeling of acceptance among Phoenix supporters. They may not have co-signed his decision, but they weren't going to spite him for jumping at the chance to play alongside Kobe Bryant.
That's when you know you're one of those guys who deserves to go out on his own terms.
Unfortunately, Nash may not have that ability.
Will He Play Again This Season?
Forget about suspense, because the answer can't be anything other than a big, red, glaring "no."
Nash played in six games at the start of the 2013-14 season, before lower-back injuries spiraled out of control. It seemed like everything was falling prey to nerve damage, and the veteran floor general was quite clearly hurting when he stepped onto the court against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Young and spry Ricky Rubio just ran circles around him.
Fortunately, the 40-year-old did work his way back onto the court. Nash laced the sneakers up—ironically enough—against the 'Wolves on Feb. 4, but he'd only last four games before health issues flared up once more.
He wasn't particularly effective during either stint:
|Portion of Season||PPG||RPG||APG||FG%|
|Stint 1 (10/29-11/10)||6.7||1.5||4.8||26.1|
|Stint 2 (2/4-2/11)||9.0||2.0||4.5||51.7|
Nash's second attempt was much more impressive than the first, but neither met the lofty standard he's set for himself over the years. Even last year, when he was 39 years old and playing for a dysfunctional L.A. team, the point guard averaged 12.7 points and 6.7 assists per game while shooting just under a 50-percent clip.
It doesn't look like he'll have a shot at redemption this season:
Mike D'Antoni says he "doubts" Steve Nash plays again this season, but wouldn't rule him out— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 3, 2014
That quote from Mike D'Antoni after a shootaround before the Lakers' surprising Monday-night victory over the Portland Trail Blazers made things pretty clear, and it's one that Nash himself has confirmed:
Steve Nash on prospects of returning: "We’ll see. I couldn’t really make a prediction. If I get a chance, it’ll be great."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 3, 2014
Not exactly promising, huh?
You can't doubt Nash's commitment, both to the Lakers and the twilight of his basketball career, but you can absolutely doubt whether his aging body will allow him to step onto the hardwood of the Staples Center one more time before the 2013-14 season draws to a close.
Even if this season is a wash, Nash still has another year to turn back the clock and show the Lakers faithful his version of "showtime," as Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times suggests:
It's a longshot he'll even be back this season from recurring back soreness. But he's already looking to the future, where he's scheduled to earn $9.7 million in 2014-15 as the final part of a three-year, $28-million contract.
What Does the Future Hold?
It's not about the money for Nash.
Bresnahan's closing clause simply informs readers of the financial burden the Lakers are under with regard to the point guard. It's relevant not because Nash is overpaid and could stave off retirement with a desire for another paycheck, but rather because his contract could cause the team to use the "stretch provision."
If such a measure is taken by Sept. 1, Nash will be waived, and the Lakers will have the luxury of spreading his contract out over the next three seasons, saving themselves from an unnecessarily large monetary toll in 2014-15.
The stretch provision is essentially the equivalent of Nash being forced into retirement.
While he could potentially be picked up either off waivers or as a free agent by one of the Association's 29 other teams, he'd have to relocate his family and make a fresh start for only one year of uncertainty.
"If the Lakers release me this summer, this is it," Nash told Grantland earlier this season. "I finally got my kids here in L.A. I'm not going to move them again, and I'm not going to be without them for another year. So it's either back with the Lakers next year or I'm done."
It's just not worth it, and nothing could be further from going out on his own terms.
That said, Nash has made it quite clear that he's not just giving up. You can see a lot of that in this fantastic video from Grantland:
The whole segment has a dark, melancholy tone, created by the lighting, the subject and the background music, but Nash isn't asking for sympathy. You end up pitying him, but he's not asking for pity.
Through the clips of him working out and rehabbing what seems like every part of his body, all with the intention of regaining childlike fluidity on the court, Nash is making it quite clear that he isn't done. He's not done fighting, and he certainly isn't done playing.
Echoing that sentiment, he told Bresnahan before the March 3 game with Rip City, "I want to come back for sure."
Not "I might want to come back" or "I'm thinking about coming back."
Whether or not that journey is successful—and it feels like the odds are against him—Nash's resume stands the test of time. He might be hanging on past his prime and running the risk of tarnishing the memories of younger generations, but fortunately, he played out his prime during the YouTube era.
We'll always be able to see this play:
We'll always be able to recall these highlights:
Nash put together a Hall of Fame career long before he joined the Lake Show. He has two MVPs to his credit, was named to the All-Star team eight times and led the league in assists per game five times in a seven-year stretch.
Beyond those accolades, he made nearly everyone who watched him appreciate the game of basketball. The flashy passes, the grittiness and the flair for the dramatic made him one of the most memorable point guards of all time, and most NBA fans have a quintessential Nash moment that immediately springs to mind, even if it's something as simple as his long hair or the infamous Ali G commercial he filmed during the mid-2000s.
If that reads like a career obituary for the legendary floor general, so be it. It might have to in a couple of weeks, though he'll certainly be given much more space dedicated to remembering his career rather than questioning his future.
At the beginning of that Grantland video up above, Nash described his situation as a basketball equivalent of Groundhog Day, the 1993 Bill Murray flick in which he plays a news anchor stuck reliving the exact same day time after time.
When Nash makes the reference, it's undoubtedly negative. He's lamenting the fact that every day is filled with questions about his future and the struggles of rehab.
What does the future hold in store for Nash?
Nash deserves to be living through a basketball version of Groundhog Day, but not this one. One in which he relived the same types of dominant performances that led to his two MVP trophies would be nice. Maybe even letting him suit up and at least play effectively night in and night out would do the trick.
This is just torture.
Not everyone gets to be Joe DiMaggio, Bill Russell, John Elway or David Robinson, retiring right after helping steer their team to a championship. Those players are few and far between, part of a select group of standouts leaving the game at the summit of their respective sport.
Nash isn't going to be one of those legends who retires on top, but he at least deserves to retire on his own terms, playing basketball effectively and waving to the crowd for a final time from the court, not the bench.