He may not have entered the world, or the NBA for that matter, looking like an old man, but Steve Nash certainly has had a Benjamin Button-esque career arc. Like the basketball version of a fine glass of wine, or Betty White, he’s only gotten better and more popular with age.
Just six days short of his 38th birthday, Nash set the Suns’ franchise record in assists, tallying his 6,519th on a breakaway pass to Josh Childress who converted on the layup. The pass came 5,569 days (or 133,656 hours, or 8,019,360 minutes or 481,161,600 seconds) after a buzzed cut kid, who looked more like an extra in Revenge of the Nerds than the suave veteran we know and love today, dropped his first dime to then Suns forward Danny Manning. It was the start of something amazing, although none of us would have known it.
See, Nash as a rookie was the third point guard on a veteran team that included Suns great Kevin Johnson and one of the league’s best point guards at the time, Jason Kidd. If you had told most fans back in 1996 that the kid with the goofy grin and ill fitting uniform would eventually be the team’s starting point guard, let alone a two-time MVP and franchise record holder, they probably would have laughed at you, and rightfully so.
In his first two years in Phoenix, Nash didn’t exactly set the world on fire. He only compiled 400 assists in 141 games (2.83 per game). Due to the point guard position being more crowded than a clown car, he was traded to Dallas in the summer of 1998 in exchange for Pat Garrity, Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells — the NBA equivalent of packing peanuts — and a 1999 1st round draft pick (a selection that would turn into Shawn Marion).
But it’s Nash who would have the last laugh (or at least laughs on a continual basis while everyone else assumed they were his last).
Despite never having averaged more than 8.8 assists in his first eight seasons, Nash would return to the desert in 2004 at the age of 30 after Mavericks owner Mark Cuban let him go (year’s later admitting he didn’t think Nash would be walking in the year 2012 let alone playing basketball).
While many doubted Nash saying he was too old or too fragile to make an impact anymore, his second stint with the Suns would really mark the beginning of his journey rather than its final chapter.
In Nash’s last seven and a half season in the NBA he’s almost doubled the assist totals he put up in his first eight year’s in the league (6,122 versus 3,319). He has led the league in assists five times, and is well on his way to a sixth, since returning to the Suns. It was something he never accomplished previously. Oh, and he won two bronze statuettes (and I’m not talking about SAG Awards).
Nash defies logic, and for that matter science. He’s gotten better with each passing year, and not just on the court. One could argue his sense of fashion and sense of humor have evolved as much as his game in his 30’s.
Nash now stands alone at the top of the Suns assist list with 6,522 having surpassed his former teammate, and mentor, Kevin Johnson’s former record of 6,518. Being atop the list isn’t the most impressive thing though. The fact that 6,122 of those assists for Nash came after the age of 30 while only 922 of them came after surpassing the three decade mark for KJ is.
While most guards his age are already in the NBA’s version of a retirement home — aka Turner Sports — or preparing to hang up their Nike’s for wingtips or flip flops, Nash is playing just as effective, or more so, than he ever has. It’s like his career is aging in reverse.
Nash won’t become the league’s first 38 year old rookie of the year, but he’s playing with the spirit and the effort of someone at the beginning of his career rather then the end of it.
Geoffrey Chaucer once said ‘time and tide wait for no man.’ That is unless your name is Benjamin Button or Steve Nash. Then it does more than just wait for you, it runs in reverse.
What is your explanation for how successful Nash has been later in his career?