Top 50: Steve Nash, no. 22
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
by Sherman Johnson
Steve Nash is my dude. But he wasn’t always one of my favorite favorites until I saw him play soccer in Chinatown last summer.
It was August 2008, Wednesday or Thursday, I can’t recall. An Argentinean homie sent me an e-mail saying that his soccer team (amateurs from the United Nations) was playing just for fun against some Italians from the national team. He invited me to join them since soccer is one of my favorite things outside of basketball. I was geeked, especially when I saw the ps at the bottom of his note: “Hey, by the way, I think Steve Nash will be playing with them…do you know him, German, the one who plays for NBA?”
Personally, I didn’t give an ish about the Italians. The only reason I cut out of the office in the middle of my workday was to get a look at Nash who I’d heard was just as good on the pitch than he is on the hardwood which I thought was ridiculous since he commits more of his time to focus on basketball.
It was raining like HELL when I arrived and so I was sure that Nash wouldn’t show. My homie was already talking about the match being canceled and wanted to head to a bar to drink away our disappointment. I was ready bounce when Nash suddenly appeared with a couple of friends beneath a huge umbrella wearing a blue Ambrosini jersey.
He walked over and said “Hey, guys!” like he was someone other than back-to-back MVP Steve Nash. A couple of Asian kids went ape shiite before I could and asked for his autograph to which he good-naturedly replied, “Not now guys! I’m here to play. After the game!”
I thought it was the best comeback line I’d heard all gloomy day. I wanted to give him a pound because. I’m thinking “There’s no way he’s gonna play in this rain” but he did, for more than an hour. I figure there’s no way he’s as good at soccer as he is at basketball. I was wrong. Steve Nash could play in the Italian major league if he wanted or represent the Canadian national team. He plays soccer just like he plays basketball: on the offensive. My homeboy’s squad got crushed but you wouldn’t think so from the expressions on their faces. They were happier than the Italians!
I figured Nash would murk out after the game since he was soaked and probably exhausted but again I was wrong. He stayed and took pictures and signed autographs and then talked a little bit about spending his off-seasons in New York City (where he met his wife around 2001) training with the Red Bulls. He even discussed plans to buy a stake of ownership in the Vancouver Whitecaps (his little bro Martin plays for the Whitecaps and has even made 30 appearances for the Canadian national soccer team), his investment in a women’s professional soccer league as a way of providing his twin daughters with positive role models to look up to, and a few of his humanitarian projects. Then he was Swayze leaving us kinda shook and thirsty. So we went for beers. A lot, in Steve Nash’s honor.
In retrospect I don’t know why I was surprised that Nash showed up and played in the rain. Afterall, he played with a gash in his nose the first game of the semis against the Spurs in 2007. Up until that moment I’d always respected Nash’s game, particularly since he came up in a major way from underdog to top dog. That game definitely made a believer out of me.
I’ve always admired athletes who excel at more than one sport: I figure their dexterity gives them an edge when it comes to competition. Which is why I like watching Kobe, Dirk and Nash, among others, compete. All three played soccer in their youth and it’s not a coincidence that all three are the cream of the NBA crop. Their perspectives on competition are different than the average bear. It’s like being able to play the guitar or piano. If you play one or the other then you can practically play them all. How well, is determined by the level of commitment and focus put into the endeavor. If you think I’m full of ish, take Lebron James and Tim Duncan and other superlative athletes like Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson and Master P into account before you diss me. Or scream on me for including Master P in that last sentence when I meant Roy Jones Jr.
But seriously, Steve Nash is my dude because his game reminds me a lot of Isiah Thomas’ in that he’s one of the most tenacious at his position, a fearless competitor who gives no quarter (only dimes!), and has the capability and determination to take over a game. Like Zeke, Nash isn’t one to let his size limit what he accomplishes on court. He’s dangerous from anywhere on the floor with that roving, all-seeing Terminator-like walleye that makes him a percipient passer and a crafty and creative playmaker. At 35 he’s still got the hyper drive to jump to warp on the drop of a dime and disappear and reappear like a genie on the toughest defenders in the League. Nash takes what defenses give him, whether it’s the three-pointer, lane, baseline, or alley-oop, he’s virtually unstoppable with his intelligence, court savvy and physical gifts that make him a true NBA superstar.
Nash’s career numbers in perspective:
GP GS MPG FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG PP
934 775 31.1 .487 .432 .900 3.0 8.0 0.8 14.4
Nash led the League in assists three consecutive years: 11.5 apg in ’04–05, 10.5 in ’05–06 and 11.6 in ’06–07. His 90.0% average from the charity stripe is second best in NBA history. From beyond the arc, his 43.2 percent average is fifth-best in league history, and his total assists, assists per game, and three-point field goals made rank him as one of the top 20 players in league history. In addition, he is ranked fourth (starting from ’86–87) in regular season point-assist double-doubles. During ’05–06, Nash became the fourth player in NBA history to shoot better than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range (43.9), and 90 percent from the line, joining Larry Bird, Reggie Miller and Mark Price, a feat he would repeat in the ’07–08 and ’08–09, becoming the first player in NBA history to shoot such percentages for three straight seasons.
A two-time MVP, Nash is only the second point guard (along with Magic Johnson) to win the MVP award multiple times and the third guard in NBA history to earn back-to-back MVPs (joining Johnson and Michael Jordan). Only eight other NBA players have won back-to-back MVP awards: Johnson, Jordan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, and Tim Duncan.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.