Steve Nash officially announced his retirement Saturday in a letter published on The Players’ Tribune, ending a 19-year run in which he was at the forefront of an exciting brand of basketball with the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns.
But the final three years of his storied career were spent toiling away in rehab with the Los Angeles Lakers after breaking his leg in just his second game in the purple and gold – an injury that went on to cause nerve damage. Combine that with the back issues that plagued him throughout his career, and it was just too much for the 41-year-old to overcome.
Nash’s absence from the court in recent years has essentially relegated the future Hall of Famer to an afterthought, as a new wave of electrifying point guards carry on the torch and make their own history.
However, due to our short memories, it is easy to forget his overall contribution to the game and the entertaining style of play he brought whenever he stepped on the court.
Nash was one of the greatest passers the league has ever seen, routinely squeezing pinpoint bounce passes through the slightest crevice in the defense for easy scores by teammates. In fact, he finished his career with 10,335 assists, third all time behind only John Stockton (15,806) and Jason Kidd (12,091).
He will also be remembered as one of the NBA’s best marksmen. There have only been 10 recorded 50-40-90 seasons (50 percent from the field, 40 percent from behind the arc and 90 percent from the free throw line), and Nash has four by himself – Larry Bird (twice), Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Jose Calderon and Kevin Durant are the only others to achieve the feat with the requisite minimum attempts for each category.
Simply put, he was an offensive maestro with a feel for the game that simply can’t be taught. The ball was his piano and the arena his concert hall.
Nash initially started making a name for himself with the Mavericks, where he and his buddy Dirk Nowitzki helped turn a downtrodden franchise into a perennial Western Conference power. They developed great chemistry in the pick-and-pop, leading most to believe it would be a devastating combination for years to come.
But before the 2004-05 season, Nash tested free agency and ended up re-signing with the team that drafted him out of Santa Clara: the Phoenix Suns.
Mike D’Antoni arrived in Phoenix the same year and brought along his famous “Seven Seconds or Less” offense – which put Nash in the driver’s seat of a system that was predicated on tempo, spacing and three-point shooting.
Predictably, he thrived in D’Antoni’s system during their four seasons together, winning back-to-back MVP Awards in 2005 and 2006 and guiding the team to the conference finals both seasons.
Nash and D’Antoni ultimately left a mark on the NBA much greater than wins and losses; together, they re-introduced fans to the speedy pace of yesteryear and revolutionized the league during a time when teams relied heavily on iso/post-heavy attacks for buckets.
The biggest knock against Nash, however, will be his inability to capture an elusive championship ring. His best chance to win would have been with Kobe Bryant (and Dwight Howard for a season) in Los Angeles, but no Hollywood ending was in the the script.
Nevertheless, Nash’s time with the Lakers shouldn’t diminish the great career he carved out for himself.
Photo: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports