Why the NBA is must-watch again

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2012, 12:00am


For the past dozen years Steve Nash has been a freakishly creative force in the NBA. He has defied defenders who have been athletically superior through sheer guile and will, and it has helped the native of Victoria, British Columbia, who is neither imposing in size nor speed, win two Most Valuable Player awards and become one of the most popular basketball players in the world.

He is also class personified and is both thoughtful and insightful while working tirelessly for charitable causes. Frankly, he seems to do everything right and the tendency when discussing Nash is to gush a bit too effusively. Yes, he's Canadian so there will be some requisite bias from me. And I honestly believe the toughness he routinely exhibits on the basketball court is part and parcel of his ancestry as well.

But at a time when the NBA has spiralled into a mass of self-indulgent, preening, pampered and entitled star players who lack basic basketball fundamentals and IQ, Nash is selfless to the core. He is always looking to pass first and is one of the most accomplished and accommodating of players to ever lace up sneakers. He is a creative, thoughtful genius and, as maudlin and hackneyed as this may sound, he makes me proud to be a Canadian. In fact, it would have been entirely apropos if I had written this one week ago on July 1, Canada day. But one week ago Nash was largely insignificant as little more than an entertaining sideshow on the hapless Phoenix Suns. Today, he is a Los Angeles Laker with, apparently, a legitimate opportunity to win a championship for the first time in five years.

I thought the trade of a 38-year-old point guard would elicit very little reaction but now I am hearing from a number of respected analysts that this is a blockbuster deal. Again, Nash is 38. The list of players who have made a significant impact on a championship team at that age does not exist because there are none. Less than two weeks ago the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder for the championship in a battle between two spectacularly athletic and youthful teams. And now you are expecting a 38-year-old, one who is slight in stature and has never been particularly good at defending quicker players, to tilt the balance of power in your favour against them?

It's kind of like bringing a knife to a gunfight and I guess it's a good thing that Nash will now be playing in Los Angeles because nothing short of a Hollywood ending will get him the title that has eluded him his entire career. The Lakers still have Kobe Bryant, who is supremely talented and confident but at a physically fragile 33 is on the wrong side of greatness. They have some very good big men and a couple of OK complimentary pieces as well. But in the end it will be the sunshine boys Bryant and Nash, who will be 34 and 39 respectively when the play-offs roll around next April, leading the charge. And I like the sound of that; in fact I like it a great deal.

This will be compelling theatre and makes me more interested in watching the NBA then I have been in a few years. Bryant is one of the most competitive - and clutch - players in the history of the NBA. If there is one guy you want taking the final shot, it's Kobe. Unless you have Nash on the team, in which case it could be either and what a wonderful surplus of fearless veteran savvy that will be at crunch time.

Over the years with Phoenix, Nash has had some memorable and heated battles with division rivals the Lakers and only a few weeks back told a New York radio station he could never envision playing for them. 'The truth is I am a bit old school, so I think it would be hard to pull on a Lakers jersey,' he said. 'That's just the way it is and you play against them so many times in the play-offs, you just wouldn't play for them.'

Nash turned down a chance to go back to Canada to play for the woeful Toronto Raptors to put on a jersey he could never imagine wearing because it keeps him near his kids in Phoenix and allows him to dream of a title.

So what's not to like? Well for starters, the Lakers. I can't stand them and the way the NBA has long bent over backwards to ensure its glamour franchise is always in the spotlight. Nash now makes it impossible for me to hate the Lakers. That's a painful admission and while Nash may be an old-school player, the operative word here is old. He is set to tackle both father time and a bevy of supremely gifted teams entering their prime. But if anyone is up to the task, it's Nash. He's spent a career defying expectations and now the ultimate underdog has one more thing left to prove in the most unlikely of locales. This might actually be fun.