Steve Nash didn’t play his entire career with the Phoenix Suns. He actually sucked, at least relative to what he would become, during his first stint in Arizona. Nobody saw a future MVP blooming when a rookie Nash averaged just 3.3 points and 2.1 assists per game in 1996-97. Nobody foresaw that 15 years into the future, the entire city, or at least so it seemed, would stand on its feet in unison to say a possible goodbye to the point guard wizard who never complained, even as the Suns front office repeatedly sold first-round draft picks and allowed high-profile free agents to walk.
You want to see a one-way loyalty street in the NBA? Look back and watch how Nash handled himself when the Suns kept declining chances to improve a Western Conference contender and then finally let Joe Johnson, and Shawn Marion, and Amare Stoudemire, depart. Watch how he kept doing his thing, licking his fingers and slicking his hair back, running Phoenix’s offense to near-perfection even when Grant Hill, a 38-year old small forward, sometimes played power forward and Nash’s primary pick-and-roll target became Marcin Gortat. Watch how Nash remained in perfect shape, how he battled through back issues season after season, how he always returned for training camp ready to keep things rolling, how he averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists this season on 53.5 percent shooting, how, even at the age of 38, he became the only player under 6-foot-8 to make the top 19 in field goal percentage (Nash finished his season at No. 10). Look at everything Phoenix did to piss off Nash, or rather, nothing it did to surround him with capable talent, and listen to how few ripples he caused through the years.
Nash wasn’t loyal in Phoenix. He was saintly. The Suns gave him the Kevin Garnett treatment — “we’ll pay you handsomely for your time, but if you think we’re going to do whatever we can to win a title — HA!” — and Nash, like Garnett, never became a diva, never became a nuisance, tried like hell to win titles, to lift crummy players to levels they shouldn’t reach, but in the NBA, one man, even the greats, can only do so much. Garnett ultimately realized that and accepted a trade to Boston. He has since aired his grievances with the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, but while he remained an employee, Garnett did, like Garnett does, whatever he could to win games. Nash has finally reached the point where he’s willing to accept offers from outside Phoenix; though he’s made that publicly known, all his fans in Phoenix respect the decision (note: lower-case “d”) because they know how hard he tried to fight the move. They understand what it took to be Steve Nash all these years, to carry teams year after year, to see a title contender evaporate around him and to keep whatever frustration he had stapled firmly to his chest, not for the world to see. I would be surprised if many of those fans don’t, at least partially, want to see Nash leave so he can finally have an opportunity to compete with a team he deserves, to play with peers rather than understudies, to leave the quicksand which has taken hold of Phoenix’s franchise and finally contend for the ring he deserves.
Many NBA players, some of them superstars, go through careers without winning a championship. Some of those players are among the best in the world — think of the list of stars yet to win a championship: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Lebron James, Chris Paul, the list goes on and on. Some of the aforementioned studs will one day earn a Larry O’Brien Trophy. Others on the list probably won’t. Nash is on that list, like Garnett used to be. Maybe he’ll leave Phoenix and win a title in the next couple years. Maybe he won’t. Even if Nash’s fingers remain ringless forever, Phoenix cheered for a champion for each of the past eight seasons. I only wish the Suns, like the Timberwolves before them, hadn’t done whatever they could to hold Nash back.