It’s a shame when an athlete’s narrative becomes wholly driven by injury, but that’s where Steve Nash finds himself these days.
With a team that has so few players under contract for next season, there’s also a pragmatic question—is there still a meaningful role for the future Hall of Famer to play?
Actual NBA game action is not in Nash's immediate future. On Thursday, Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times tweeted that the 40-year-old point guard had been shut down for the remainder of the season.
Nash played just 10 games before the plug was finally pulled and can usually be found on a trainer’s table or in a practice facility with an assortment of stretch bands and other torture devices, or sometimes just a basketball, trying every way imaginable to find a path back from a litany of health issues.
Misery deserves company for the Los Angeles Lakers these days—Kobe Bryant is also done for the season after playing only six times. These two giants of the game, in the winter of their basketball lives, exhibit a different approach to their respective dilemmas.
Bryant, ever the fierce warrior, seems sure of his ability to come back better than ever. Nash, on the other hand, is more reflective, questioning his basketball mortality in a series of documentaries by Jonathan Hock for Grantland entitled The Finish Line.
In Episode 3, Nash explores his feelings about fans and members of the media who have been calling for his retirement. Ethereal music accompanies closeups of a pensive athlete who muses about “two meaningless games” that nonetheless took on personal significance simply due to the fact that he was able to function at a high level for a tantalizingly brief period of time.
Nash is also ruefully philosophical during the episode, about the decision to keep him on the sideline in favor of younger players, even though he feels ready to get back out on the court, adding, “I don’t want to get in the way of those guys showcasing themselves.”
And then there's the moment when he tosses out a blunt remark about not retiring because he wants the money. Predictably, that’s the one that’s really drawing all the attention.
As Kevin Ding for Bleacher Report writes, Nash is expected to get one last chance next season to get his body as right as possible and hopefully salvage his Lakers career:
There’s no way for the Lakers to count on Nash giving anyone anything. However, if Nash is staying on the roster next season, then at least he still has a chance. “I’ll give it my best effort,” he said, “and hopefully put this behind me.
You can’t blame Nash for the fatalism in his remarks these days—he’s gone through immense physical suffering and disappointment. Still, wanting all the cash or not getting in the way of other guys showcasing themselves doesn’t exactly speak to the best way to pay a legacy forward.
After all, this is an eight-time All-Star, a two-time MVP and one of the all-time great point guards in the game of basketball. We want to remember him at his best, not his most insecure and not at his most mercenary.
Shouldn’t there be more to the conversation than whether he can simply go out on his own terms? And shouldn’t those terms include a greater good?
Yes, we understand you still want to play—we want that too. But, if your mind’s willing while your body isn’t, then deal with it. Find an alternative. Make your contribution in another way. Use your immeasurable talent and court vision to shepherd those who can still get up and down the court.
There’s a changing of the guard, a new generation. Be that noblest of professions—a teacher.
Apart from Nash, the Lakers have just one point guard under contract next season—Kendall Marshall, a second-year player who was called up from the D-League in December. The team can also make a qualifying offer to combo guard Kent Bazemore, another lightly tested sophomore with promise.
Other possibilities include re-signing free agent Jordan Farmar and the chance to hit paydirt in the upcoming draft with someone like Dante Exum—the wonder kid from Australia.
Who knows, maybe Nash comes back next season and by some miracle of rejuvenation puts together one last run for the ages. It would be a wonderful way to cap a career.
But shouldn’t there be another plan as well, one that’s more than just an on-court finale?
Nash can leave his imprint on the game in more than one way—he could mentor others, could share the secret to those outrageous behind-the-back passes, could teach so many things that can best be taught by those who have operated at the absolute peak of a profession and in fact are not far removed from it.
He may still have a $9.7 million contract as a player next season, but it doesn’t mean he can’t act as an unofficial coach.
It’s fine to ruminate about what might have been and what you still long for. But you can also leave more behind then celluloid impressions.
What role can Steve Nash play for the Lakers next season? That of a role model and a real contributor to an organization that gave him one last shot for greatness. Bring along the film crew—it would make a hell of a story.