NBA / Jul 12, 2012 / 12:00 pm

From Dime #69: Steve Nash – The Lone Ranger

Steve Nash

Steve Nash (photo. Indochino)

Now that Steve Nash has been formally introduced as a Laker, his time in Phoenix has finally closed its final chapter. Luckily, we had the chance to hang with Nash in the desert during his final year with the Suns and get a glimpse into how he plans to keep going as a player. The following story was printed in Dime #69

Steve Nash was never just a basketball player. Back-to-back NBA MVPs didn’t make him different. A cultured, spirited, hockey-loving Canadian in an American-dominated game made him different. Now at 38 years old in a young man’s world, Nash is again unique. He’s still dominating when everyone thought it was impossible.

*** *** ***

White walls and the forest of bright lights hit like a car’s high beams. But there is one giant green screen, red and black cables snaking along the floor, a dirt-colored carpet and one black stool. Outside, it’s one of those early January Arizona days where the sun burns but it feels only 50 degrees in the shade.

Inside, nearly the only sound comes from the humming computers. “Throw a pen at me if you need something,” a woman tells me.

In the center of it all is a regular guy with celebrity hair. He has on dark blue jeans and an unbuttoned black polo shirt. A makeup artist parts that famous long black hair down the middle. This regular dude might tell you he was still wide-eyed seeing Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel walk into a restaurant once, too nervous to go introduce himself. But he’ll also tell you fans need limits. Asking for autographs at dinner is always a bad time. But gawking for a signature while someone is in a bathroom stall getting their business done is even worse. He knows.

“I don’t think of myself as a celebrity,” the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player will say later. “It doesn’t sound right to think in those terms.”

The world of Steve Nash, sitting in a room with dozens of people; filming a commercial for the Dove Men Plus Care “Journey To Comfort” campaign that eventually airs during March Madness; on a resort aptly called The Sanctuary Hotel, which sits in the belly of one of Scottsdale’s sun-kissed mountains; in the opening weeks of his 16th NBA season; a man who went from unwanted in Victoria, British Columbia to undervalued in Dallas to beloved and finally to deserted in Phoenix, who tried ballet twice this summer just because he can, is trying to explain the unexplainable. He’s trying to explain his life.

Nash’s unlikely basketball story was never just about the accolades (eight All-Star selections) or the numbers (closing in on 10,000 career assists). As he heads into the summer of free agency that may define his final years in the NBA, we’re left to pick up the pieces and determine how this all happened.

A man with dreadlocks and a small notepad in hand tweaks his interviewee’s interest by asking how insanely, incredibly, unexpectedly crazy it was that the kid who didn’t even get ESPN growing up in Canada led the world’s greatest basketball league in total assists last season at 38 years old.

Nash chuckles at the man and says, “Is it really that crazy?”

Eli Pasquale might think so. He was Nash before Nash, a 6-1, superstar Canadian point guard who dominated at the University of Victoria. Drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1984, he lasted only three preseason games.

One year during Pasquale’s summer basketball camp, the Canadian legend was giving the teenager Nash a ride home, eventually blurting out, “If you wanna play in the NBA, you need to decide right now.”

Really? Right now? But I’m not even the best athlete in my family. It’s true. Ask Steve and he’ll even admit it. His brother Martin was the better athlete, more gifted, quicker, faster, and stronger. He’s only 5-10 but damn, he could score. Five times as a high school senior, the gunner broke 50 points. But he marched to his own beat. Nash compares him to Allen Iverson.

Nash worshipped Pasquale, and so he couldn’t do anything but listen. Still, ever since he began playing with his hands instead of his feet, and on the hardwood instead of the ice, his goal had always been to play in the NCAA Tournament, to “become a real college basketball player someday.” This all started in the eighth grade. Nash’s friends played basketball so he decided to try it too.

He had seen his father’s athletic dreams die, the man who used to come to Nash’s games and stand on the sideline, busting out in his deep British accent, “C’mon ref, you must be joking!” John played semi-pro – “conference football” – in England, earning $100 every Saturday. Yet even though father and son still meet for spirited games of tennis, John wasn’t a crazy competitor or stubborn to the core. That was more like Nash’s mother, Jean.

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