When thinking of the greatest point guards to ever set foot on an NBA court, many names come to mind:
Magic Johnson, the man who embodied the Lakers’ “Showtime.”
Oscar Robertson, the walking Triple-Double.
John Stockton, the all-time NBA leader in assists and steals.
Isiah Thomas, Bob Cousy, and Jason Kidd are up there too.
And there are even some younger studs who are trying their damn hardest to make a case for themselves, such as Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook. (Honorable mention to Derrick Rose, who appeared to be on track for a title like this, but continues to be derailed by injuries.)
Yet whenever this discussion comes up, it seems that one player is often forgotten: Steve Nash.
His combination of court vision, stunning passes, misdirection, intelligence, and impossible shooting accuracy will almost certainly never be seen again in another player. Nash simply had offense flowing in his veins. He was a clutch shooter and always made the right play every trip down the floor. He was as unique of a player as they come.
And now that he has officially retired, we will no longer be able to appreciate his mastery on the court before our eyes, and are simply left to admire his jaw-dropping highlight reels. Let us take some time to dwell on the remarkable legend that Nash is.
Steve Nash started off as a Canadian high-school basketball star. His defense was shoddy to say the least, but Nash was an incredibly dominant offensive force with the ball in his hands. However, to say that colleges weren’t interested would be an understatement. Nash was not recruited by a single college, who apparently were not interested in a skinny Canadian white kid.
Nash got his chance when Santa Clara University asked for his tape and requested to meet him. He blew them away with his skills, and would play for the Santa Clara Broncos throughout his collegiate career. There he would lead the Broncos to 3 NCAA Tournament appearances, including the university’s first in 5 years. After 4 years of college, Nash decided that he would declare for the NBA Draft.
Drafted 15th overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 1996 Draft (which included notable legends, such as Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, and Ray Allen), Nash was not an immediate contributor, coming off the bench for Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson, two incredible point guards in their own right. After two seasons of riding the pine in Phoenix, Nash was traded to the Dallas Mavericks where he joined then foreign rookie, now future Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki. During his first four years in the league, Nash didn’t put up any eye-popping stats, except for his 40% 3 point accuracy.
Finally, in his 5th year, Nash solidified himself as an above average point guard, averaging 15.6 points and 7.3 assists per game, and his numbers would continue to rise. With the Mavericks on the rise and the formidable tandem of Nash and Nowitzki leading the way, the sky appeared to be the limit.
Alas, the ultimate success of a Championship alluded them.
One Conference Finals appearance was the farthest this stacked team ever made, losing to the eventual-champions, the San Antonio Spurs. In the summer of 2004, the Mavericks opted to let the 30 year old Nash walk in free agency, choosing to build around it’s younger core. Nash would resign with the Suns, the team that drafted him, to join a team that had a few promising stars, but a mere 29-53 record from the previous season.
This is where Nash floored the gas pedal, obliterating everything in his path and never looking back.
The Suns absolutely exploded for a league best 62-20 record, with Nash garnering numerous accolades along the way, including an All-Star appearance, All-NBA 1st team honors, and most importantly, his first NBA MVP award, becoming the first Canadian to ever do so. He had helped set the bar for foreign players to succeed. Besides his former German teammate Dirk Nowitzki, very few foreign players had experienced anywhere close to the success that Nash was having. He was not just thriving at his position, he was single-handedly performing at it better than anyone else in the world.
He would win a second MVP award the following season, in which Nash joined arguably the most prestigious club in basketball history: the 50-40-90 club, shooting 50% from the field, 40% from 3 point range, and 90% from the free throw line in the same season. But, because it’s Steve Nash, it simply wasn’t enough. So he had to accomplish this feat again in three straight seasons from 2008-2010. This club is exclusive to a mere 10 seasons among 6 players, and Nash is responsible for four of those.
This man did the impossible, achieving the greatest statistical accuracy imaginable.
Four. Freaking. Times.
During his time in Phoenix, Nash would continue to will the ball into the basket and dish out impossibly creative and effortless assists time and time again. Incredible had become the norm in the desert as we came to expect sheer greatness from him. Unfortunately, changing locations and joining another stacked roster did not help Nash escape the fate he had experienced in Dallas. Nash’s Suns couldn’t even sniff the opportunity to play for the NBA title, going only as far as the Western Conference Finals yet again.
Injuries began to take their toll on Nash. While he continued to put up impressive numbers, averaging a double-double at 37 years of age, it was clear that he was not the same player he once was. During the summer of 2012, Nash and the Suns chose to part ways, so he left to join the Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. There, he would only play in 65 games over 2 seasons before finally calling it a career. His incredible career had left an imprint on the NBA, but he had been unable to win a coveted NBA title.
Perhaps this is the reason why basketball circles seem to leave out Nash’s name when discussing the all-time great point guards. In an era where championships mean everything, and those who don’t win one aren’t considered as special as those who do, we have lost sight of the truly great individual players in our midst. Individual performances somehow mean absolutely nothing unless it can result in a ring.
Perhaps admiring an unathletic point guard who relies on efficiency, control, and finesse isn’t as sexy as slam dunks, high-flyers, and smash-mouth basketball.
Whatever the reason, Steve Nash will go down in history as probably the most underrated and underappreciated legend we’ve ever seen. He had the ability to take over a game by passing the ball. Nash redefined originality at the point guard position and was never complacent, always striving to improve not just himself, but those around him.
Basketball is a team sport, and Nash was arguably the ultimate team player. Hopefully, in hindsight, we will be able to look back on his absolutely stunning career and truly admire what he has done for the sport. He saw the game like few others could, and when the time comes, we will truly appreciate his greatness when his name is in the hall of fame.
All stats from www.basketball-reference.com