I have always had divided loyalties to Steve Nash. On one hand, as a Utah Jazz fan, I had to respect him and his game but never wanted him to ascend beyond the brilliance of John Stockton. On the other hand, as a Canadian, he is the best player ever from my home and native land. Furthermore, beyond being an excellent NBA player he captained countless Canadian National teams over his career, and one personal high point for me was Team Canada's win over a unified Yugoslavian team back in the Olympics years ago. He is a good guy, does charity work, is smart, a good speaker, is funny, and had a number of entertaining off-court episodes. Not bad for a guy who also has two MVP trophies and redefined the concept of shooting excellence.
And if you didn't hear it by now, well, he is going to miss the entire 2014-2015 NBA season. He is in a contract year. Some team may be likely to offer him a shot next year, but he has publicly stated that he has no desire to move away from Los Angeles in the near future. So, long story short, this could be the end of a very successful, but injury plagued career.
The thoughtful and measured prose of Yahoo! Sport's Kelly Dwyer sums it up perfectly:
The Los Angeles Lakers' prospects were never going to be all that swell in 2014-15. The team is thin, injury-prone, lacking defenders, and featuring a questionable mindset when it comes to attempting three-pointers. One saving grace that fans did have to look forward to was the potential, at last, for a pairing of a healthy Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. Though the two would have been diminished by age and injury, the throwback backcourt would have been fun to take in.
We've, again, been denied a chance at watching as much. Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report was the first to drop word on Thursday evening that Nash will be ruled out for the entire 2014-15 season because of ongoing nerve damage in his back. The two-time MVP has said repeatedly that he has no interest in moving his family away from Los Angeles in order to join another team, so barring an unexpected contract offer from the Lakers or Los Angeles Clippers next season, Steve Nash will effectively retire after this diagnosis.
It's a sad day for the NBA. And for me it's bittersweet. Nash is likely to retire well behind John Stockton on the All-Time Assists list. For a while, a few seasons ago, it appeared like Nash could one day challenge that mark. Today we know that he will never reach it. And as a Jazz fan there are no Championship Banners to give us succor, we must hang onto the individual legacies of our players and coaches. But really, Steve Nash was a great player. And if anything, really carried the torch for pass first point guards who had strong fundamentals, lived in the gym, worked on their shot, and made their teammates better. As a John Stockton fan it only made sense to root for Steve Nash, regardless of what passport I hold.
This got me thinking, how have other point guards fared in the NBA after the odometer reached the dreaded age of 36? I went to Basketball-Reference and found out what happens to these guys (time frame = the last 25 seasons, so from 1989 till today). The rub was that these point guards had to have played at least 100 regular season games since turning 36 years old. You want to know what I found?
The short answer is that the wheels fall off.
The slightly less short answer is that you see greatness exhibit itself.
First, yes, John Stockton was a beast. He played nearly 400 games from the age 36 onwards, and dominated the Win Scores (WS) advanced stat compared to the rest of these point geezers. A bunch of these guys went into coaching (Lindsey Hunter, Steve Kerr, Avery Johnson, Terry Porter, Mark Jackson, Derek Fisher, Sam Cassell, and Jason Kidd) -- and for the most part it was a smart move because they were shells of their former selves. Guys like Kerr in particular was absolutely useless in any non- Steve Novak role.
But man, John Stockton was past his peak, but so was Steve Nash. And Nash, though with about half the sample size, was holding his own. He shot better and ended up out assisting John past the age of 36, but with a lower Assist to turn over ratio. John was the more efficient player overall, and actually played defense (the majority of these 16 point guards did not after the age of 35), but Steve was able to play more MPG when he did play.
Being lesser than or almost equal to John Stockton at any age is something we have to respect. Nash, when healthy, was worthy of John's mantle as the best point guard of his specific generation. But that's John's trump card. He was the most healthy guy in NBA history. And no matter how good Nash was at his peak, John was better for longer.
For at least now, though, I need to let the Jazz fan in me quiet down. Canada has had a really rough week, and this news doesn't make it any better. But the Canadian resolve isn't to mourn or be defeated by bad news. But to gather resolve and strength from the challenges our heroes have overcome. Steve Nash was a long shot to even make it to the NCAA level, let alone excel all the way to winning two MVP titles in the NBA. There are no rings on his fingers, something him and Stockton share. He will also one day be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
One thing he won't be doing anytime soon is playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, aka, the Black Widow team. (Any future HOFer who plays with Kobe Bryant seems to have their careers cut short.) And as a Utah Jazz fan, making life harder for Kobe Bryant is something we all can cheer for.
Thanks Steve Nash for doing so much for our country, and helping to grow the love of basketball north of the border. Your contributions to the National team (which continue today with your mentorship program and participation as Team Canada brass) made us forget about hockey during every international tournament. As an NBA fan I can say that you always played the right way and point guards should model their game after you, and not the 'me-first / shoot-first' guards of today. You will be missed. But you will always be remembered.
Thank you for advancing the game of basketball and carrying the torch for true floor generals. Your place in history is cemented, but your influence on the game of basketball will continue to grow with time.