It's okay to treat Steve Nash's season-ending injury as a reluctant goodbye, because that's exactly what this is.
While Kobe Bryant has made headlines for causing the "demise" of the Los Aneles Lakers, Nash has faded into an afterthought, everything but the vibrant maestro we've grown to love one creative dish at a time. From All-Star to aging outcast, Nash's career will end without an NBA Finals appearance, let alone the championship he longed for when he signed with the Lakers.
But no one envisioned the compromise he would eventually negotiate in the form of 181 missed games, broken legs, and damaged nerves. Instead of opening another championship window, Nash has been a dispiriting liability for the Lakers, and his tenure ends with nothing but unrelenting injury offset by the occasional glimpse into yesteryear.
How the Lakers move on is, of course, important to note, but we've argued enough about their rebuilding plans for one week. Basketball is losing a legend, and it sucks. Injuries suck. Broken seasons suck. Everything contrary to what Steve Nash embodied sucks. He played basketball with an efficient freedom, always navigating the court for a daring assist, challenging three-pointer, or random trick shot most couldn't even master on 2K.
Watching Nash in his prime was fun, though I never got the chance to watch him in person. I've seen Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili, each of them putting on brilliant displays I'll never forget in my wildest dreams. But there was something distinct about Nash, even if his unassuming frame and soft-spoken tone never matched how dangerous he was on the basketball court.
Nash told Grantland, "I was never the most explosive athlete. For me, my strengths were my mobility, my dexterity, my ability to get into cracks and do something with my body once I got there. Without that mobility, I'm average. If you've seen a child move, they just move freely, they just are. At my best, I am childlike, and getting back to that is a challenge."
Photo credit: Noah Graham, Getty Images
It's also been a challenge to accept Nash being gone because he gave us so many fun memories. He gave us the Seven Seconds or Less Suns. He helped Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Raja Bell, Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, and so many more land eye-popping pay days. The Mike D'Antoni-led Suns don't accomplish anything without Nash racking up 215 double-digit assist games over a four-year span. And the 2010 Suns certainly don't sniff the Western Conference Finals if Nash doesn't post 17.8 points and 10.1 assists over their 16-game playoff run.
So much doesn't happen without Steve Nash, including the elusive championship that will act as the only asterisk on an otherwise decorated resume. Fortunately, we won't threaten to use that against him -- not the way we once did with LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki. For some reason, Nash was different. He was dynamic without being polarizing. His competitive appetite was insatiable, but it never crossed any lines. Nash simply competed for the game he loved, and the NBA is better for it.
Pick-and-rolls are more popular than ever, granting more physically imposing floor generals leeway to create, rinse, and repeat -- an artform Nash mastered to the tune of two Most Valuable Player awards, 10,335 assists, 1,685 made threes, 17,387 career points, and a library of YouTube montages.
But as basketball lends itself more to the pace-and-space philosophy, we'll also grow further removed from Nash pioneering it. The most upsetting part is never seeing him hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy: The ultimate reward for the ultimate competitor. Whether he was getting bounced into the scorer's table, breaking his nose during a playoff game, or stitching a bloody eye to continue playing, Nash always bounced back strong. Not only that, he bounced back with flare, whether with a back-breaking three-pointer, mind-boggling runner, or the always-dependable assist made out of nowhere. His brilliance was inevitable, even with an expiration date.
The Lakers will move on from Nash, completely resigned to the reality of a failed signing. Almost immediately, it was clear nothing would go as planned, even if Nash gave each comeback his almighty best. Father Time is undefeated, and even the most awe-inspiring maestros fall victim to age and attrition.
We hate this part of anyone's NBA journey, but Nash earned a special place in our memories. He was a unifying resource for anyone seeking a lesson in teamwork, artistry, and brilliance. Watching him was anything but redundant, no matter how routine his 10-assist games became. Having Steve Nash was fun, and that's what we should remember him for. Not the $9.3 million expiring contract he's become, or the fact he played the most postseason games (120) without an NBA Finals berth.
And that's what makes this reluctant goodbye, well, reluctant. Steve Nash's brilliance made it fun to root for his championship pursuits, because who wouldn't root for the unassuming hooper? Who wouldn't root for the floppy hair? Who wouldn't root for this?