Posted on Sun, Nov. 19, 2006
Evolution of an MVP
PHOENIX - Ten days into the NBA season, Steve Nash once again led the league in assists. He averaged a career-high in points. He was in the best shape of his life.
Nash, the reigning two-time MVP, looked poised to mount an assault on a three-peat.
And, he was miserable.
The run-and-fun Phoenix Suns, the NBA's darlings, had started the season 1-5. Even their Ferrari-paced offense was unable to keep up with the nearly 112 points per game they were yielding to opponents.
After a Nov. 9 loss to Dallas where Nash scored 20 points but also made 10 turnovers, Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni cracked that his star had notched a ``tragic double.''
Nash wasn't laughing.
``Very, very frustrating,'' Nash said. ``It's embarrassing. I'm angry.''
It hasn't gotten any better heading into his Bay Area return tonight as the Suns visit the Warriors. Phoenix is 3-6 and Nash missed the past two games because of back spasms.
None of this, of course, pleases the NBA's quintessential team player. The essence of Nash is a steadfast refusal to accept anything less than excellence. He possesses a relentless desire to succeed. When he doesn't, well, you have a very unhappy guy.
Winning two MVP awards, you see, didn't just happen by accident. The Canadian kid who barely even caught the notice of Santa Clara may have snuck up on most everybody else, but he spent years molding himself into the perfect point guard.
Good luck, though, getting the humble Nash to elaborate much on the process.
``I'm not trying to hide it,'' said Nash, who hopes to play against the Warriors. ``But the only thing ever important was trying to get better. The rest of it doesn't matter. It never crossed my mind to market that stuff. It's not my job to let people know how hard I work.''
This much is certain: Nash's evolution to greatness was gradual, and he had help.
First, and foremost, Nash is a phenomenal athlete.
``Guys like him are born, not made,'' D'Antoni said.
His court awareness, creative instincts and physical skills simply can't be taught. They may be honed -- but you either have them or you don't.
Santa Clara Coach Dick Davey long has believed that Nash could have been a pro in three other sports: soccer, baseball and hockey.
Last spring, taking batting practice with the Giants at the invitation of former Broncos teammate Randy Winn, Nash displayed opposite-field power even though he hadn't played baseball since he was 13. Two summers ago, his Vancouver-based physiotherapist, Rick Celebrini, saw Nash go on the ice with a few NHL players.
``He didn't look out of place even though he hadn't picked up a stick since high school,'' Celebrini said. ``And on the soccer field, he's great. It's uncanny. He just has a gift.''
The Warriors' Don Nelson, who coached Nash in Dallas, marveled at how his point guard could juggle a basketball, soccer-style, the length of a court and then ``shoot'' it with his feet or head.
``If he missed, he would rebound it with his feet and keep doing that until he made a basket,'' Nelson said. ``He's one of the best athletes in the world.''
Nash recently took up another activity: skateboarding.
``I probably shouldn't talk about that,'' he said. ``I don't think the upstairs brass wants to hear about it. Besides, I don't know how good I am.''
Sure. Next stop: X Games.
The 178-pound Nash is built like a sinewy greyhound. But as a Santa Clara senior, he weighed closer to 200 pounds. Davey believed Nash had to bulk up to play in the NBA.
``So he was a little pudgy when he got here,'' said Suns trainer Aaron Nelson, who befriended Nash when the team drafted him in 1996.
Now, Nash feels more fit at the lighter weight. He might look somewhat scrawny, but Nash counters with quickness and a motor that never stops. Also, no NBA player is more in tune with his body than Nash. He has no choice.
Dallas owner Mark Cuban allowed Nash to return to the Suns in 2004 as a free agent because, as he wrote on his blog, it was only a matter of time before the guard's ``kamikaze spirit'' caught up with him. Nash, at 30 and with a history of back problems, was a health risk.
Nash made it his mission to justify the $60 million the Suns paid him and prove Cuban wrong.
He began training with Celebrini, who improved Nash's biomechanics -- emphasizing more efficient movements. That helps explain why Nash appears to flow effortlessly on the court. More important, it has allowed Nash to cope with spondylolisthesis, a condition where a vertebra slips and tightens his hamstring.
Since returning to Phoenix, Nash has been durable -- missing only 12 games, including the two he just sat out.
But Celebrini declines credit, saying: ``Steve is Steve because Steve has made Steve.''
Del Harris was a Canadian national team adviser when he pulled aside a teenage Nash.
``I told him he didn't know it yet, but he had a real shot at being an NBA player,'' he said.
Nash seemed surprised. But sure enough, when Harris became a Dallas assistant late in the 1999-2000 season, Nash was one of the team's guards after arriving from the Suns in a trade. Nash's pro career had been fairly nondescript; he had never averaged more than 9.1 points per game in a season.
The trouble, Harris remembered, was that ``it just wasn't in Steve's nature to be assertive.'' Nelson finally forced the issue by basically making Nash shoot the ball.
``When I got him, he wanted to score nine or 10 points a game and get 12 assists,'' Nelson said. ``I had to convince him that he could get 20 points and 12 assists. When he finally bought into that, he became a dominant player.''
And an All-Star.
``I always wanted to be the pure point guard, the guy who makes his teammates feel good about themselves,'' Nash said. ``Nellie made me realize that the best way for me to help my team was to score.''
But Nelson concedes there was something he didn't see:
That came on his next step.
For those who fondly remember Nelson's Run TMC teams with the Warriors, this will sound strange. But compared to D'Antoni, Nelson's offensive style is conservative. In Dallas, Nelson could emphasize a two-man game with Nash and 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki.
``We didn't use an all-out running game,'' Harris said. ``But Mike plays with a completely open court. He never looks for a post-up play. He plays a European style where everything is created on the perimeter. Steve is the best there is playing that style.''
In Phoenix, without big men clogging the lane, Nash darts into the paint with impunity. There, his options expand -- drive for a layup, stop for that deadly fade-back jumper, kick the ball outside to an open teammate, or dribble on through and start all over.
``With Dirk, Dallas always had a big guy down in the middle,'' D'Antoni said. ``We have Shawn (Marion) and Amare (Stoudemire) who can really move around and stay out of Steve's way.''
It's not as if the Mavs fell apart without Nash -- they beat the Suns en route to the NBA finals last season. But there is a wistfulness in Cuban's voice when he talks about Nash.
``He went somewhere that really recognized his talents,'' Cuban said. ``We just didn't play that way. They just run, run, run all the time.''
After a guy wins his second consecutive MVP, he decides to chill out, right?
Nash always has been, in the words of Davey, ``absolutely deranged'' when it came to improving his game -- such as dribbling a tennis ball as he walked around campus. But it went to another level this off-season. Besides his usual pick-up games and gym work, Nash played in two soccer leagues to better his conditioning.
In September, he would arrive daily at the Suns' facility at 7:30 a.m. and wouldn't leave until early afternoon. His workouts included running parking garage ramps and hiking Camelback Mountain.
The result: Nelson believes Nash, 32, has the body of an athlete years younger, despite his back condition.
``He won't tell you this, but he's doing all this work because he wants his team to do well,'' Nelson added. ``It's not all individual.''
That's why Nash has taken the Suns' lackluster start so personally. The only thing missing on his résumé is what he wants the most -- a title.
``The stats aren't important,'' Nash said. ``I've done all that. That's what I do. I shouldn't expect anything less. And I also expect more out of us as a team.''
Spoken like a guy who's not done working yet.
Contact Mark Emmons at email@example.com.
© 2006 MercuryNews.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
Discuss anything related to Golden State Warriors basketball here
yeah, the 2 things that really jump out in the article are his incredible work ethic and how, contrary to the criticisms, he is consistently described as an amazing athlete, someone who could have gone pro in 3 other sports...he also seems less narcissistic and self-involved than a lot of top-tier athletes
migya wrote:TMC wrote:And the most important thing: He's also a Tottenham Hotspurs fan.
Just for that, I'd like him even if he were a third stringer pg...
Fuk english footy off!
Yeah. Pretty much. I only see the goals on TV. Whole games are usually too boring...
migya wrote: Fuk english footy off!
Didn't want to start another thread just for this so, under the approval of your previous post ( )...
<object><param></param><param></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/KyJZ0pG-Ilo" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" width="425" height="350"></embed></object>
Enjoy it (for those that do).