So, this isn’t the first time nobody saw Steve Nash coming. Hall of Fame point guards don’t typically come out of British Columbia and go through Santa Clara and the West Coast Conference on the way to capturing two NBA MVP awards.
Now, six years after the close of his 18-year playing career, Nash has been named head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, telling ESPN’s The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears on Thursday that “the coaching itch was always there.”
“The why is that I love to teach. I love to learn,” Nash told Spears. “I love being part of a team and building a team. And I love to compete. It has all the ingredients in terms of satisfying growing as a person, leading a team and a group of people. Learning from the people and the game. Being part of an organization and a culture. And then competition. Those are the ingredients that excite me and put me in a position to be thrilled to take this opportunity.”
In his 2018 Hall of Fame induction speech, Nash recalled playing in a high-powered summer tournament with a gym filled with iconic coaches as he chased a dream of playing Division I basketball. By the time his team of Canadian teenagers took the court, they had all split. He sent out 30 tapes to colleges and received one scholarship offer, from a school he had never heard of, California’s Santa Clara University.
“Nobody really liked what they saw on those tapes, but what they couldn’t see on the tapes was a relentless obsession and work ethic that would never diminish for 20-plus years,” said Nash in his induction speech.
He spent the next two decades pushing through one expectation after another, turning plateaus into springboards, as he said from the stage in Springfield two years ago.
As a Santa Clara freshman, Nash and the Broncos knocked off second-seeded Arizona in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. He went to three NCAA Tournaments with Santa Clara, won two WCC Player of the Year awards, picked up another first round win against Maryland in 1996, and was selected 15th overall in 1996 by Phoenix.
The Suns traded him to Dallas two years later, but after two All-Star Games and four straight 50-win seasons, the Mavericks let him walk as a free agent and he returned to Phoenix.
Back with the Suns, Nash upended the NBA in coach Mike D’Antoni’s famed “Seven Seconds or Less” attack, winning his first MVP award at the age of 31 and repeating the following year. Starting with that first season back in Phoenix in 2004-05, Nash led the NBA in assists for three straight seasons and five times overall, ultimately standing third on the league’s all-time career list with 10,335 assists.
He made three straight All-NBA First Teams from 2005 through 2007 and totaled seven All-NBA honors and eight All-Star Game selections.
Nash spent the last five seasons in a player development consultant role with the Golden State Warriors, a stretch that included four NBA Finals appearances and two titles, working closely during those championship seasons with current Net Kevin Durant.
“He knows the drill,” Golden State head coach Steve Kerr told TheAthletic.com’s Tim Kawakami. “He’s been in the league forever and he knows the game as well as anybody and he understands people. And I think he’s very wise, so he’ll hire a good staff. And everything that he needs to learn, he’ll learn quickly. It’ll happen so quickly for him just to get the rhythm and the feel and I’m sure he’ll hire a great staff to help him along.”
Kerr was the general manager in Phoenix during one of the two seasons that Nets general manager Sean Marks was teammates with Nash on the Suns. Marks referenced Nash’s Golden State experience with Kerr while discussing the hiring with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski Thursday on The Woj Pod.
“I think that probably enticed him to think more about getting involved in coaching,” said Marks. “I think when you’ve been around a championship caliber team like Golden State, that has just been a juggernaut the last five, six years, and being around a guy like Steve Kerr who is an open communicator, high character guy, Steve would certainly have picked up some of Steve Kerr’s traits and I’m sure they picked each other’s brain a lot from time to time. I think that’s led Steve to want to make this decision and want to jump in right now. Obviously it never hurts when you’ve already got a rapport with some of our players, which Steve has. He’s got the respect of everybody in the league because of how he’s conducted himself over the lifetime of his career.”