We're dangerously close to the start of the NBA season, with all its drama and months of madness. To us, part of the beauty of the NBA is that its focus, while ultimately on the team, falls on the individual. The plight of one player becomes an epic tale in the shadow of Jordan; who is the real alpha dog? It's this source of expression and personal comedy/tragedy that makes the game so compelling. There's nowhere to hide out there.
No site captures this feel more than the great Free Darko, which we read like a doctor's chart every day during the NBA season. They understand the dichotomy between individual achievement and collective glory, and how those are not mutually exclusive. And they've got a way with letters too. Right now, they're actually doing a writeup on every single NBA player.
Therefore, we've asked them to look at the arcs of certain players going into this season, what 2007-08 means to them, their teams and their legacies. They'll be previewing a player a day, up to tipoff.
Today: Steve Nash. Your author is Brown Recluse, Esq. His words are after the jump.
Michael Jordan has ruined basketball for an entire generation.
For evidence, look no further than Kobe Bean Bryant. Not the current imbroglio with the Lakers, which is the sort of thing Michael kept largely out of public view, but the walk, the turnaround jumper and, most important, the obsessive need to be the best. Jordan's competitive nature is now celebrated so widely that holding a petty grudge, such as Arenas' pledge to score 50 on the Blazers, is acknowledged as a sign of immaturity, but also interpreted as a sign of potential greatness. It's what Jordan would have done. Jordan's hegemony over the league has meant that there is only one way for a player to be competitive. Crush. Kill. Destroy. In fact, anyone not possessing such a single-mindedness is seen as deficient, even weak.
Steve Nash offers up a different path. Much has been made of Nash's "Canadian reticence," but you best believe that he wants to win as badly as anyone who has ever played this game, including His Airness. It's just that Nash doesn't strive to beat his opponent; he wants to beat the game. A recent article in Play, a publication whose name belies the seriousness with which professional athletes are supposed to approach their sport, relates a story about Nash figuring out that passing the ball out using only one hand was three-tenths of a second faster than doing it with two. That's indicative of Nash's obsessive focus and drive to win, a mind in constant motion, just as he is with the rock in his hands. Nash sees basketball as a puzzle, not as a contest.
In the same article, the author mentions a series of games of H-O-R-S-E between Nash and Leandro Barbosa that ended in a tie. It's a safe bet that Michael Jordan has never tied at anything in his life.
All of this is not to say that Nash steps on the court and sees chess pieces. He is a human being, after all. And the king he most wants to checkmate isn't the one wearing a crown and being carried around on a throne. He's the one wearing the rings. Four of them, to be exact. As much as the Suns are cast as the anti-Spurs—"fun and gun" to the Spurs "right way"—the player in the league most like Steve Nash is Tim Duncan. They share a cerebral approach to the game and a certain off-court inscrutability. I have no idea what Duncan feels about the war or how much he paid to download "In Rainbows," but I'd be willing to wager that if he and Nash were stuck in an airport together, they'd discover that they have a thing or two in common.
You can also be certain that Nash hasn't forgotten about the bloody nose, being checked into the bench by Robert Horry or having to play one of the most important games of his life two men down. Nash isn't out to hurt anyone or make them look bad, but if the uniforms of the losing team next spring happen to be silver and black, I think he might take an extra amount of pleasure in that.
The media has already determined that if Nash can't win it all this year, he might not ever get the chance again. Nash will be 34 years old by the time the playoffs roll around, Marion's still doing the Jan Brady and Amare's knee could give out again. But the reality is that Marion's been saying the same shit for two seasons now, with little effect on his play on the court, and Amare is a superhuman who cannot be judged by the standards we use for mere mortals. He made first team all-NBA while still testing his knee out and, if recent reports are accurate, is poised to completely blow minds in 2007-08.
As for our hero Nash, he simply does not follow the typical trajectory of an NBA player (peak at 28, rapid decline after age 33 or so) because he is not a typical NBA player. He doesn't rely on run-and-jump athleticism or quickness, but rather unmatched skill and conditioning. Despite a wonky back, Nash is in possibly the best shape of his life right now, and it's unlikely that his court vision or jumper is going to be leaving him any time soon.
In the end, the main reason that Nash's championship window is not in danger of closing is that he doesn't even think in those terms. In that regard, he is completely dissimilar from his good pal Dirk, who looked painfully aware of exactly of what was happening to him, but was powerless to stop it.