This weekend, Steve Nash took the floor in Toronto, Ontario for the first time since being acquired by the Los Angeles Lakers in July of 2012. Canada’s most successful active basketball player finished the contest with 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, nine assists and one steal as the Lakers fell 108-103 to the Toronto Raptors. The game was one of the former two-time MVP’s best in what has been an otherwise disappointing season for he and his Los Angeles teammates. Still, seeing Nash back in his home and native land was, in many ways, bittersweet.
For some context, the Canadian basketball experience has been pretty depressing over the past 20 years. The men’s national team last qualified for the Olympics 12 years ago, back when the team was led by a fresh-faced Steve Nash. Similarly, on the professional side, the Toronto Raptors have struggled to attain even modest NBA success (not to mention the defunct Vancouver Grizzlies). In 16 seasons, the Raps have reached the playoffs just five times, while losing the likes of Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh via trade or free agency. The 2011-12 squad finished the season 11th in the East with a record of 23-43 (Toronto isn’t much better this year, sitting in 10th in the conference at 15-26.)
And so, when the possibility that Nash might end up a Raptor became real this summer, most basketball fans across the country were understandably excited. The logic was threefold: Toronto offered the Victoria, British Columbia native more money than any other suitor (even sending along a personalized message from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and taking on Landry Fields for $20 million). Nash, who turns 39 years old in February, could finish his career in his home country, and, perhaps even more compelling, the combination of Canada’s only professional basketball team with its national basketball hero had the potential to grow the game in ways other Raptors never could.
Nash did not sign in Toronto in the offseason, landing instead with the Lake Show. While the fact that Nash chose Hollywood over the hockey capital certainly stung, let’s face it, Canucks: Steve Nash made the right decision for both himself, and for the nation as a whole.
The former has been well-documented elsewhere, including by Dime‘s Andrew Greif. Briefly, by putting on the purple and gold, Nash was thought to have improved his chances of winning a well-deserved first NBA title (the key word here is thought – although there’s still half a season to play), and he was also in close proximity to his family on the West Coast.
But what about Canada?
In May of 2012, Nash signed on as General Manager of Canada Basketball’s men’s senior national team. The role enables Nash to still transform the country’s basketball culture for good, even from afar with the Lakers. Based on his public statements, that is the goal.