So it wasn’t until after his sophomore year at Santa Clara College that Nash truly believed he could go where Pasquale never could. Playing in the World Championships for Canada, he left such an impression that people started talking. Scouts started calling. When Nash got back to campus, one of the assistant coaches started repeating what others were saying: Steve Nash was a future pro.
“I realized with two more years left in college, I was like ‘I’m really think I’m gonna be able to do this,’” says Nash. “That was the point.”
It boiled over on a plane ride back to Santa Clara after a pre-draft workout in 1996. Nash had worked out for 12 teams, and had impressed enough that the Phoenix Suns would eventually select him with the No. 15 pick in one of the most loaded draft classes of the last 25 years.
And yet on the back of that plane, Nash wasn’t thinking about what was to come. The tears flowed as he remembered the daily grind, from his first word, “Goal!” with his arms raised, to the 30 colleges who never responded when his high school coach sent tapes, to just a few months previously when he vanished from the basketball team’s apartment at Santa Clara on Selection Sunday, sprinting four blocks because he had just found out the Broncos would be in the NCAA Tournament. He didn’t know why he was running, was simply high on adrenaline and didn’t know what else to do.
“It was an emotional process every day to get to the top,” Nash says.
It still is. As part of the star-studded ’96 Draft class, Nash has seen players like Antoine Walker, Stephon Marbury and Peja Stojakovic come and go, and yet he’s averaged at least 9.7 assists a game in every season since 2004. Even with an ailment like spondylolisthesis, where a vertebra slips out of place, he’s found a perfect balance between improvement and sustaining what he already has. Nash first hurt his back in Dallas, and actually credits it with making him take better care of his body.
Now he doesn’t eat any processed or synthetic sugars. He eats fruits, vegetables and fish. No bread. No pasta. No wheat. Barely any dairy. Nash jokes he’ll have Mexican food, “just no tortillas and cheese. Still got my avocadoes, my black beans, my eggs, my salsa. It’s still pretty good.”
“At the end of the day, he’s worked for everything he has,” teammate Jared Dudley adds. “He’s in the gym. He works on soccer when he goes to aerobics. He’s probably in the best shape out of anyone on our team.”
Nash survived by evolving. Even his celebrated hair has transformed over the years. Long locks past his chin. Grotesque sideburns. It was bleached for a time. Growing up, he was a big Kid N’ Play fan, and for a while even tried a high and tight cut.
“I’ve had a lot of pretty bad looks over the years,” he jokes, “but you gotta embrace it.”
It didn’t surprise anyone that when last summer’s lockout hit, Nash didn’t really play basketball. He tried ballet twice instead. With so many NBA players defining themselves through a ball and a hoop, the time off killed them. But for Nash, it was a welcomed break.
He went to music concerts. At a stop on the Rock the Bells tour, he found himself on stage with Nas. Another time at a Lil Wayne concert, Nicki Minaj was performing and was in the midst of picking someone from the crowd to join her onstage. Wayne jumped up right away, pointing feverishly at Nash, who was brought out from the side of the stage to enjoy a lap dance from the hip-hop queen.
“When basketball becomes your job,” Nash says, “you don’t need your friends to like basketball.”
Nash traveled. He spent time with his children. And he worked with his film production company. The plan is to ultimately become an agency that writes, shoots and edits spots themselves. They’ve already done a documentary – “Into The Wind” – for ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series. For Nash, filmmaking won’t be some post-retirement hobby. It already is a part of his life.
“I do thrive off it,” he says of his unique schedule. “I enjoy lots of different things, and I enjoy the diversity of doing different things so I don’t get stale.”
As always, he played soccer in New York City, and of course a little hockey. Back when they were both in Phoenix, Nash constantly amazed his former teammate Joe Johnson. The Atlanta All-Star remembers Nash dribbling with his feet from one end of the court to the other before kicking the ball into the hoop. Sometimes before practice, they would go out to the court and find the hockey ice still there. With the training staff freaking out, Nash would start skating around, hitting the puck and pulling off tricks.
“That’s something that I’ve never seen before,” Johnson says. “His coordination is crazy good.”