Body of Evidence

Paul Coro
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 24, 2004

The average NBA player is slightly taller than 6 feet, 7 inches, weighs slightly more than 224 pounds and plays an average of 4 1/2 years.

Eleven games into his ninth season, Suns point guard Steve Nash is both way above and below average. At 6 feet 3 and 195 pounds, Nash is small by NBA standards. At 30, he is old by Suns standards. Yet Nash is averaging nearly 36 minutes per game for the league's youngest team, and he says he is in the best shape of his life.

"He's changed his body around more than anybody I've seen go from college to the pros, and became quicker," Los Angeles Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said.

Nash credits a "revolutionary" workout program designed to develop specific basketball muscles, enhance coordination - especially between the upper and lower body - and prevent injuries.

Vancouver physiotherapist Rick Celebrini, who played pro soccer with Nash's brother, developed the program for Nash after years of rehabilitating athletes. He wanted to try to prevent injuries rather than help athletes heal from them.

Celebrini began by analyzing Nash's four athletic movements - forward/backward, lateral, diagonal and rotational motion - to see how he could make them more efficient.

This was more than curls and crunches. It was training tied to practical basketball moves. For example, Nash was stronger planting and turning off one foot than the other. Celebrini retaught Nash the move to make him equally quick and powerful off both sides.

Nash worked out five hours a day, five days a week during the off-season, with a 2 1/2-hour workout on Saturdays. A typical morning session would encompass a series of plyometric drills and sprints before Nash would perform the same exercises with weighted tubes around his ankles and a weighted vest on his chest.

The idea was to keep Nash's form consistent despite physical taxation.

"More than anything, what I did was core work. I've always worked hard to get in shape to make sure I can play every game," said Nash, who played every game for Dallas in 2001-02 and 2002-03 and missed only four games last season. "It's really valuable to me to play in as many games as I can."

To Celebrini, the "core" is more than just the body's midsection. It is an "integration center" for the upper and lower body. If Nash is dribbling fast, coordinating his hands and feet, he also may have to shield off a defender with his upper body. That requires core muscles.

When he shoots, his motor skills must have a consistent base of support, again relying on core muscles.

"The players who can do that without compromising stability or mobility are the athletes who succeed and stay injury free," Celebrini said. "You need raw strength and quickness, but if you don't have proper patterns, it becomes inefficient."

Nash signed up for Celebrini's program after the Suns gave him a six-year deal worth up to $66 million. A part of him worked to honor the Suns' commitment to him. A part of him wanted to refute a contention of his former boss, Dallas owner Mark Cuban.

"It's that kamikaze spirit and approach to the game that is Steve's greatest weakness," Cuban wrote July 3 on his Web site, explaining why Dallas didn't make more of an effort to re-sign Nash. " . . . Our feeling was that we were fortunate that Steve had been so injury free, that it was only a matter of time before his style of play caught up with him."

It hasn't caught him yet. Nash leads the NBA in assists and trails only his greatest benefactor, Amar