Is it over? Perhaps not. But the announcement this past Thursday by the Los Angeles Lakers that point guard Steve Nash will once again be missing an entire season of basketball is a sad one. Even if he were to play, at this point in his career, having played only 65 games over the last two seasons (and only fifteen last year), the Nash of today would not be the Nash of yesterday. The wonder of his Dallas Maverick and Phoenix Sun days has been reduced to memory. In the century that his brand of play gave birth to, he is already past.
In some ways, that seems fitting because Nash was never shy about passing the rock, about making forgotten players, cast offs, and embryonic cells into Marvel heroes. He was the Stan Lee of point guards, drawing up Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley, Raef LaFrentz, Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill, Jason Richardson, and Amar'e Stoudemire. This list is long; it could be longer. The thing is none of these players, with the exception of Dirk and perhaps Boris, were ever the same in their reincarnations with other teams; teams without Nash.
The observation is rather metaphorical, but Nash's back pain always seemed to stem from the weight of his own imagination. He was never just carrying the weight of a franchise, but the weight of all creation. His back went bust from lifting up all those careers from the desert.
I've written about it before, but I always struggled with what Steve Nash's place in the basketball universe was. As a Spurs fan who dated a phantom Phoenix fan during the heyday of Nash's abilities, I was often baited into debates of the point guard versus the power forward. That relationship didn't last, but my fascination with Nash did. I was wrong to question the merits of his MVP candidacies. Not only did he better the careers of several NBA players but he revolutionized the game.
However, even the victory of his revolution came through his personal defeats. As his own body broke down more and more, his greatest rivals, the San Antonio Spurs as we know them today, came to reflect more and more the offensive philosophies and fluidity of Nash's old Phoenix teams. The team that broke his nose and pushed him into a scorer's table eventually became the product of his creative energy. This paradox may be perhaps the biggest compliment and insult ever given in a sport, to only be defeated but plagiarized by one's rival.
Perhaps what we got wrong most of all about Nash was the impression that teams made in his image were somehow soft. After all, considering the pain he was in throughout his career--as he could never take a seat while on the bench but had to lie on the floor, always stretching and twisting and moving--he was, as much as Kobe or Duncan or Garnett, among the toughest of his generation.
The following links are what I've written about Steve Nash in the past: