Steve Nash: The Unlikely Journey of a Two-Time MVP
“The day of the draft, Suns owner Jerry Colangelo asked [Don] Nelson, ‘You feel good about this kid?’ Colangelo liked Nash, as did assistant coach Danny Ainge. Nelson confirmed their instincts. ‘If Stevie is not a success,’ he replied, ‘you can have my job.’ – Lee Jenkins, SI.com
Steve Nash didn’t just have an unlikely journey to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but to the NBA in general.
Nash grew up in Canada playing soccer and didn’t begin his basketball career until later in his childhood. Victoria, British Columbia wasn’t exactly known for basketball recruits and his offer letters were proof of that.
"I had one scholarship offer, and I didn't have any NBA players in my neighborhood,” Nash said.
The point guard was at a crossroads, but it was former Suns Head Coach Jay Triano, who was coaching at Simon Fraser University, that pushed him to play ball in the U.S.
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“I went to recruit him and told him not to come and play for me, to aim higher,” Triano said.
Nash was only being recruited by one American university, Santa Clara, and although Triano wanted him, he knew that Santa Clara would be the better option for the young point guard. In his first season in college, he put his name on the map leading Santa Clara to their first NCAA tournament in five years and upsetting No. 2 seeded Arizona in the first round.
Four years later, Nash entered the NBA draft. He was selected 15th overall by the Suns, but he wouldn’t be done having to prove himself. His rookie year he was stuck behind All-Stars Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd as well as third year guard Sam Cassell.
Although Nash showed promise, the Suns ultimately dealt him to Dallas for three players and a first round pick in order to try to clear up the logjam at point guard.
The excitement and hype around Steve Nash and rookie Dirk Nowitzki was high in Dallas, but the first few years did not go as planned. Over his first two seasons on the Mavericks Nash averaged just 8.3 points and 5.1 assists.
It wasn’t until the 2001-02 season when Nash pumped those averages up to 17.9 points and 7.7 assists that he received his first All-Star nod of his career.
Although the duo of him and Nowitzki turned it around and both began to shine, by the time Nash’s contract was up, the Mavericks were prepared to let the 30-year-old walk.
Most players hit their prime in their mid-to-late 20’s and Nash was already passed that point. With only two All-Star appearances under his belt, the point guard looked to potentially find a new home.
Amar’e Stoudemire was only entering his third season in the league, but he knew who he wanted to be feeding him the rock.
"You need to come because I need you," Stoudemire told Nash. "I'll be the student. You'll be the teacher. With you in Phoenix, it's going to be over."
Nash accepted Stoudemire’s plea, returned to the Valley and impacted the NBA forever.
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The Suns had only won 29 games the year prior, but a long-haired, 6’3”, 195-pound guard changed everything. Nash helped lead the team to a thirty-point victory in his first game back in a Suns uniform.
The Suns ended the season 62-20, a 33-game difference from the year before. It was the third-greatest turnaround in NBA history as they held the best record in the league and tied the franchise record.
Nash helped run a fast-paced offense that gave the Suns the league’s highest scoring average (100.4 ppg.) in a decade.
In a season in which he turned 31 years old, Nash averaged 15.5 points and led the league with 11.5 assists per game. The barely-recruited guard from Canada was named Most Valuable Player.
He followed up his MVP season with…well, another MVP season. He upped his scoring average to 18.8 points per game and once again led the league with 10.5 assists per game. The Suns were without Stoudemire (injury) and both Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson were traded away, but that didn’t stop Nash from leading them to a 54-28 record and the No. 2 seed in the West.
Now known as Two-Time, Nash was becoming not only the face of the Suns, but one of the most iconic faces of the entire NBA.
Nash would go on to become one of the greatest passers the game has ever seen as he led the league six times in assists. He finished third all-time in assists behind only John Stockton and former-teammate and 2018 Hall of Fame class member Jason Kidd.
Welcome to the Basketball Hall of Fame, Steve Nash
The two-time MVP, seven-time All-NBA, and eight-time All-Star was one of the most efficient players in NBA history. He first joined the elite 40-50-90 club (40 percent from three, 50 percent from the field and 90 percent from free throw) during the 2005-06 season. He ended his career with a record five 40-50-90 seasons.
Nash finished his 18-year-career averaging 14.3 points and 8.5 assists while averaging 49 percent from the field, 42.8 percent from three and 90.4 percent from the line. His 90.4 percent is the highest career free throw percentage in NBA history.
The fast-paced, high-scoring offense that Nash ran with the Suns went on to open the door for teams like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in today’s NBA. The entire league has taken note of Nash’s former teams in terms of pace, three-pointers and overall scoring.
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An unlikely dream that was kept alive with one scholarship offer led to the NBA receiving one of the most dynamic and revolutionary players the league has ever seen. Between patience and dedication to his craft, Nash’s late bloom was nothing short of inspiring.
Now inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Nash finalizes his NBA career with one final message to Suns fans.
"It will always hurt that Phoenix Suns fans didn't get the championship they deserved during our run," Nash said. "Yes, we had some bad luck, but I always look back at it and think, 'I could've made one more shot, or not forced a turnover, or made a better pass.' But I don't regret anything. The arena was always sold out and rocking. It was the time of my life. Thanks, Phoenix.”