For much of his career he was an artist, a Matisse, now he is one of the wounded, another aging player. This version of Steve Nash is blurry. The only way to recognize him these days is to point out the old guy on the court who moves a little differently. He has been this way for twelve months, a little bit alienated by his current circumstances but still an honor to watch. Yes, he looks the same as before, he looks the way the old Steve used to look. But somewhere inside his damaged bones and nerve malfunction is an athlete trying to heal his body.
Steve Nash is the oldest point guard in the NBA. The Lakers pursuit of him two years ago followed an ordinary year. Steve played the fewest amount of games he had played in thirteen years. And yet no one wondered about the consequences. What if it did not work? What if the Steve Nash experiment turned into the Steve Nash failure? What if the loss was not a temporary one but a loss that dug the Lakers deeper into quicksand? The Lakers traded their future in order to get Steve Nash, all too willing to impose sanctions upon themselves- but they were punished anyway. Steve can no longer play.
On July 11, 2012 the Lakers acquired Steve Nash. It was a stunning turn of events just because no one saw it coming. It had been expected that Steve would join the Toronto Raptors as the Canadian hero returning home. If not Toronto, then the New York Knicks who were pushing hard. When the news broke that the Lakers had come to terms with Steve the basketball world was stunned, not because it was the Lakers. Their history is of the unexpected. But Phoenix is an adversary. They are in the same division as the Lakers and had grown into bitter enemies. Kobe’s sadism is ratcheted up a thousand fold when Phoenix is the opponent. It was no secret that the Suns owner, Robert Sarver, wanted to stick it to the Lakers in the NBA lockout. All of this made it particularly mind blowing that Steve Nash was coming to his team’s number one rival.
In exchange for Steve, the Suns would receive a conditional first round pick in 2013, a second round pick in 2013, a second round pick in 2014, a first round pick in 2015. This matters. Twenty year old men are the lifeline of the league, players who can be developed and built around. The provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement are intended to encourage if not mandate teams to acquire and develop talent rather than to steal talent from other teams. In this the Lakers have given away their future. A second round pick in next year’s draft which is supposed to be the deepest draft in ten years belongs to a team in their own division. It may come back and haunt them. And a first round pick in the 2015 draft which is supposed to have quality players belongs to the same Phoenix Suns. All for a point guard who has missed 40 games. He has lost track of his Laker career.
Steve Nash’s best years were with Phoenix in 2004-07. He averaged 17 points and 11 assists. He won two Most Valuable Player Awards. He played thirty five minutes a game. He was Player of the Week seven times, Player of the Month, twice. He led the NBA in assists. He was All-NBA three times. In 2004 Steve Nash was paid 8.7 million dollars a year. That year he missed seven games. This year Steve Nash is being paid 9.3 million dollars a year. He has already missed 8 games and many more are to follow; even Steve is not sure if and when he can play again. He is averaging 6 points, 4 assists.
Was it cursed at the onset? The second game of the season last year against the Portland Trailblazers, Steve Nash and Damian Lilliard collided in one of those basketball scrums that happen in a game. Damien, twenty two years old and a rookie, hardly suffered from the contact, kept on going. He barely noticed what he left in his wake, that Steve’s leg was injured. It was a fluke play, a common thing in a sport where men’s bodies become tangled. Except one of the participants was 38 years old. Recovery is just harder and longer the older you are and this seems to be Steve’s current lot in life, his body’s disobedience. Think of it this way: His injury happened last November. It has been a year. First it was his leg that suffered . Now it is his back. Who knows what will come next, what body part, what new symptom or affliction will overwhelm Steve with its diligence and determination. It is pie in the sky to think Steve Nash will ever play again considering that playing means three or four games a week, chasing down explosive players who are fifteen years younger than he is.
Come February when the season is half over and the body begins to revolt, the NBA can be a cruel place. Fatigue causes the body to do peculiar things. Steve knows better than we know. This is his last chance to do the very thing that he loves. The days are winding down to the bare minimum. This season may be it for him. When he looks into the crowd what does he see? Is it a photograph of himself? Can he see the contrast, the young cheering for the young, the old cheering for the old? There is a certain irony of leaving this way after so many years of willful obedience to a single pursuit. The Lakers may waive Steve at the beginning of summer, pay him via the stretch provision of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Then his career really will be over, no goodbye tour, no thank you, no recognition. As he put it recently, he would have “succumbed.” Realistically Steve may only have six more months left in his basketball career.
Chalk it up to Laker history, to one more chapter of people not getting what they deserve. It was great as a theory, Steve Nash to the Lakers. But it has not worked as intended for obvious reasons. The Lakers had to give up too much to get him. Steve Nash had to lose everything to play for them. Neither were victorious, both were complicit, failure was inevitable or failure was predestined. All of it was built on sand, washed away in a million storms. But despite how thin it all is, Steve’s body geography is only willing to take him so far.
Brilliance is applauded because it is temporary; it has a death, a final sentence. We move on. But- and this is the hardest thing for an athlete to do-Steve Nash must at some point accept what has happened to him. All of it reeks of providence. Still, he has to make peace with himself and his pride and his career. If there is blame then it weighs upon the game itself, on how basketball is. There are no moral victories anymore, not at this age. At this age the performances are mostly tragic even though we want the hero to win. Steve is used to trading beauty and pain, it has been true for much of his basketball life. He was never expected to get this far, to achieve like this. But the years have gone by. There are few surprises left besides clinging to the side of a rock. It is indeed fate. At some point he has to let go.