It happened in the most ironic way possible.
Anything that would matter had already been said or done and the Phoenix Suns’ season ended prior the NBA Finals, as it usually does.
After all of his big talk, Amar'e Stoudemire hurried off to his team’s locker room, Kobe Bryant was celebrating on the same court where he had been dealt such pesky frustration only three years ago, the majority of the Suns team congratulated the Lakers, which Steve Nash had already done – and Nash was in the home team’s locker room, crying.
Here was Steve Nash was at his lowest moment. He had been driven to tears, his team had been broken and finally beaten, but only after witnessing that vulnerable moment did I finally get it.
I’d been disrespecting one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game.
I haven't exactly been alone in that folly. How long has Nash been associated with the word "soft" and with his inability to capture the NBA title?
Yet, here was this man who had literally given his blood, sweat and tears in his attempt to capture the championship. Hell, he’d given bucket-loads of all the above – repeatedly – isn’t that all you can ask of a leader?
My gripe with Nash was never his offense. In fact, I firmly believe that the only hands-down better playmaker the NBA’s ever seen at the point guard position is Magic Johnson.
I had my gripes with Nash’s defense. Sometimes it just didn’t seem like he was even trying. Other times he looked almost confused, as though he was on the wrong end of the court.
My biggest gripe with Nash was his complacency.
Here was a man with unsurpassed passing skills and one of the purest shots on this side of Larry Bird, yet he chose to re-sign with the Phoenix Suns after they had failed to even qualify for the playoffs, without as much as a moment’s hesitation.
He made no demands for an improved roster, he made no attempt to recruit other players to his team – at least not publicly, but yet here he was, at 35 years old signing an extension with a team that hadn’t even feigned contending for years.
An MVP doesn’t do that, or at least I didn’t think so.
Then there were the consistently nagging excuses Nash made on behalf of his team’s failures, both regular-season and playoff related. My personal favorite was “nobody gave us Pau Gasol for nothing.”
But in the Western Conference Finals, Steve Nash made no excuses.
He never quit, never surrendered and never stopped encouraging his team. In fact, Nash was all that kept the Suns in Game 5 until the very closing seconds. He hit shot after shot over the 7 foot Pau Gasol, whom Phil Jackson frustratedly sicced on Nash in the game's final moments.
Nash confidently hit each shot, despite the intrusive defensive of Gasol, who averages nearly 2 blocks per game in this post-season.
Even Nash’s defense stepped up. Nash had not only been matched against Kobe Bryant time and again, he even managed to stay in front of him. In fact, I’m not sure if Kobe scored on Steve Nash in the entire series.
The fact of the matter is that this Suns team isn’t very talented top to bottom. I’m not even sure the Suns have a player with anything resembling an all-around game.
Yes the Suns have Stoudemire, but Stoudemire only averaged six rebounds a game in the biggest series of his life. (Small forward indeed, Sir Charles).
Yes, the Suns have a bunch of guys that can shoot well, but no one who can consistently create their own shot.
Yes they have another playmaker in Goran Dragic, who is undoubtedly reaping the benefits of playing behind a talent like Nash, but Dragic can be a hero one game and then become nothing short of tragic the next.
Don’t get me wrong, Nash isn’t LeBron James.
He isn’t capable of literally winning games by himself. Nash needs more than four other guys to serve as ricocheting brick walls after passing to them – but there’s no question that Nash is one of the most empowering, inspirational leaders the game has ever seen.
The only reason the Suns made it as far as they did is because of their chemistry.
A lot of the credit for that goes to coach Alvin Gentry, who I believe should have gotten far more consideration for the Coach of the Year award than he actually did – but the rest of it is solely because of Nash.
I’m not ready to repeal my belief that Nash’s two MVPs put him in a category where he doesn’t belong.
He has the talent, but still lacks the physicality and nastiness required to lead a team to a championship title – but he doesn’t lack the heart.
I see that now.
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