No one remembers the before- the before being great- when Steve Nash was an efficient player. He had yet to be Player of the Week or Player of the Month. He had yet to average 700 assists over a season. He had yet to shoot 50%. He had yet to be a Phoenix Sun. He had yet to win two MVP trophies. What Steve Nash was that year, what some remember about Steve Nash and 2003, the only thing worth remembering about that year was what Steve Nash said that got him into trouble. It has lingered to this day, his anti-war platform. You do not forget it that easily. Death was not proud, not for the ones who never returned. But Steve Nash was not thinking about individual families when he said the war was unjust. When he said we should not fight a war in Iraq. When he said he was against the conflict. He wore a t-shirt to the All Star game that said, “No War- Shoot For Peace.” He was besieged with hate mail and vilified in the media and told to shut up. It was a lesson for Steve Nash the athlete and Steve Nash the humanitarian and Steve Nash the pacifist. Sometimes you cannot be popular. And if you are not popular the least you can do is be principled.
“I want the money” is not the same thing as being an opponent of war. But Steve Nash still wants peace. Except the peace is with his own career, what is left of it. The peace is with the team he plays for and for the fans who religiously follow them. The peace is with his particular game that is currently in no-man’s land. The war he hated eleven years ago is not the same war that resides within his own body. But it feels the same. It feels like he has been terribly wounded. His career is on borrowed time and parts of him are broken.
So much has gone wrong for Steve Nash these last two years the question has reduced him to something very basic. What does he love? Is it money? Is it himself? Is it fame? Even he could not have predicted what he would become. Steve Nash is 40 years old and when next year begins he will be nearing the age of 41, straddling the impossible line between old and useless. If he loved the Lakers, the popular theory persists, he would retire. He would allow the Lakers to use his salary for a better value. He owes them for all he has failed to do. So walking away would be the true testament of the person who has been hailed as the best teammate in the game. Not walking away is something else entirely. It is selfishness not on his time but on ours. The torture of waiting and watching it fall apart again and again. Some will hate him for it, some will pretend it does not matter.
The truth in all of this is the math. And the math is the recalculation of Steve Nash the athlete who made a career no one thought was possible. He became Steve Nash because of that thing everyone wants to hang around his neck and beat him up for. Yes. He is taking money he has not earned. Yes. A part of that is selfish. Yes. He is flattered the Lakers still trust him. But Steve Nash paid for his career a long time ago, he fought for it. He has come this far, too far to give it all back because it seems unreasonable. And so the 9.7 million dollars is reflective of his career. He wants it because he deserves it. And he deserves it because Mitch Kupchak promised him it was his.
In the latest installment of the short documentary “The Finish Line”, Steve explains he is motivated by the game itself and by how much he loves it. It is a difficult sell for Lakers fans because it eliminates one important thing. Loving the Lakers trumps loving the game. From the very beginning the economics of Steve Nash did not make much sense. He was coming off one of his worst scoring years of his career. His three point percentage was down as was his assist rate. But the Lakers gave him a three year guaranteed deal anyway. They fired Mike Brown and hired Mike D’antoni because they were desperate for Steve to succeed. Isn’t there such a thing as reciprocity? Gratitude? Steve, by nature of his own generous character, should understand he can never be what he was and what he is now is a ghost. He is kidding himself if he thinks he can somehow change his body. That is what people think.
But Steve is defiant in his position that he is not going to retire and he is not going to give money back. The money is his. The contract is his. The body is his. And yet his body is not in a position to demand anything or to make any sort of promises. Steve resembles all of those athletes who no longer look in the mirror. They just can’t. Because to see their reflection is to see that objects are not closer than they appear. They are farther and farther away. Who remembers Steve’s first MVP trophy? Who remembers the game he had against the Knicks when he had 26 points and 14 assists. And then the next game Steve had 33 points and 17 assists. And the next game Steve played 40 minutes and had 25 points and 14 assists.
Fans want it both ways. They want their athletes to be extraordinary and gifted. They want them to be superlative in almost every category. They want humility. Be like me. No, don’t be like me. They want athletes to care about what fans care about it and that is where the divide lies. Fans care about their teams. Athletes care about their careers. And their money. And leaving only when they have to.
Steve Nash abhors war and this is his greatest irony. He is fighting a silent one. More than two centuries ago, in the Battle of Five Forks, Robert Lee’s troops were unable to keep the city of Richmond. They had to flee because men were captured and there were casualties. Soon the war would be over but not before one last stand. And that is how it is supposed to be in all wars, regardless of what the purpose is. There is one last stand, one last time to defend yourself against everyone who says you cannot do it. Perhaps like General Lee you are vanquished and all you have left is your dignity. And perhaps Steve Nash will get there, to that point when he was given what General Lee was given at the end of it all. General Lee kept his sword and his horse. Steve Nash will keep his trophies and his memories. And his friendships. And of course his 9.7 million dollars.
“I want the money”, ‘he said. Of all the things that are true that is the only thing anyone can trust.