Passion at the Point: In Praise of Steve Nash

t williAnalyst IDecember 31, 2007


It’s the atomic number of aluminum. It’s the number of original colonies in the United States. It’s the number of loaves in a baker’s dozen. And it’s society’s most unlucky number.

But the stigma of the number 13 certainly didn’t stop notable figures in sports history.

A-Rod, Dan Marino, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaq, and Tim Duncan have all sported the unlucky digits on their jerseys at one point or another. Perhaps the most well known athlete sporting the big one-three on the courts today is Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash.

Maybe Nash feels 13 is lucky. He certainly has the stats to back it up.

Given the media frenzy surrounding Nash, I knew the Suns trip' to Sacramento to play the Kings on December 30th was one I couldn't miss.

(And with the whole trip funded on my parents’ dime, who could resist?)

After adjusting my eyes to the overwhelming display of purple on both sides of the court at ARCO Arena, I settled in to watch the mind-blowing athletic exhibitions of Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Grant Hill and, of course, Steve Nash.

When the Suns’ starting lineup was announced prior to tipoff, the expected silence followed each player’s name. However, when Nash was called last, the crowd erupted in cheers.

Nash was welcomed with such applause and support by the opposing fans that I felt, maybe for a moment, that number 13 wasn’t so unlucky after all.

Steve Nash isn’t the tallest guy in the NBA, nor does he come close to measuring up to his teammates in Phoenix. He doesn’t even have the boyish charm or dashing good looks of a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

So what, exactly, does Nash bring to the table?

His style, or maybe more accurately, his lack of style makes Nash a captivating player to watch. Whether he’s anxiously hopping in place before receiving an inbounds pass, tossing a behind-the-back pass in the paint, or sending the ball full-force downcourt, Nash has his own unmistakable way of doing everything.

And it’s far from graceful.

Not that it matters for the two-time MVP, who manages to hit baskets, recover loose balls, and find open spaces on the court while making it look almost effortless. And that's to say nothing of his incredible assists—last night Nash scored a mere 12 points, but dished out 15 dimes.

I laughed out loud when I saw Nash’s goofy long pass firsthand. It’s not as funny-looking on television, and it's more impossible to describe accurately in writing—but in person, one can see the force with which Nash heaves the basketball.

What's more, his legs kick up awkwardly—but as with the great majority of his on-court efforts, Nash succeeds.

And admirably enough, Nash executes without being selfish—never does he hog the ball, and his assist numbers irrefutably prove his team-first attitude.

After all, he has set assist records at his alma mater, Santa Clara University, and in the NBA with Dallas and Phoenix.

The most memorable image I’ll keep in my head is that of Nash's presence on the court. Or maybe his lack of presence.

Most superstars have an aura that seems to follow them like a shadow. When Nash steps out to play, there is no aura, nor shadow—just a player willing to work hard, sweat a lot, and do what he loves.

Many basketball stars play for the fame, the titles, the records, the glory. Nash seems to play for the pure joy and passion that should fill every arena on any given night. Nash’s lack of beauty, ‘tude, grace, and presence is what makes him even better, even more unbeatable, and even harder to replicate.

When critics accuse professional sports of turning into a money-hungry industry, look no further than the hardwood. Nash is a refreshing reminder that there are still some athletes out there who play for the love of the game.

Maybe there is some merit to that “lucky 13” theory after all.