When we think about players who have changed the game of professional basketball, we talk about the greats – Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (to name a few). But we might be overlooking someone who belongs in that same category. The player in question, however, doesn’t like the limelight and is much more interested in playing the game and getting home to his family. Who am I talking about? Steve Nash. Steve was just inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, alongside some pretty incredible players – like Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, and Ray Allen. Over the weekend, Nash only spent about 10 minutes with the press, which is too bad as many believe he helped paved the way for today’s brand of NBA basketball.
When Nash joined the league, the game was slowing down. It was getting more physical, and even a lot harder to watch. For example – you might remember the 2004 Eastern Conference finals between Indian and Detroit. It was an eye-bleeding game 6. There were a total of 30 attempted 3-point shots, and both sides combined to shoot only 34.5% from the field. In that season alone, only two teams averaged more than 100 points per game. Five averaged fewer than 90 per game.
This is a big change that we see in today’s game. Last year, 28 teams scored 100 plus points. Coaches like Don Nelson and Mike D’Antoni helped to open up the game. That, and rule changes. But no single player is more responsible for the change than Steve Nash.
Nash, however, was never supposed to be an innovator in the game. Nash, who stands at 6’3 was playing in a game with much taller players. That said, Nash laid the groundwork for what would become the league’s “point guard era”. From starting at St. Michael’s High School in Victoria, British Columbia, to playing college basketball at Santa Clara, no one ever thought he would have such an impact on the game.
In Nash’s first year with the Phoenix Suns, he averaged 110.4 points per game. This was astonishing, with the Kings not far behind with 103.7 points per game. The league had never seen a team with the same kind of scoring capabilities against its competitors than the Suns. As a result, Nash was rewarded with back-to-back MVP awards. If you watch today’s Golden State Warriors – Steve Kerr will be the first to acknowledge it — they are a direct product of what Phoenix did under Nash’s leadership.
Nash wasn’t able to win a championship with Phoenix, and his stay as a top player in the league didn’t stay long, thanks to the likes of Kobe Bryant and then LeBron James. But Nash’s importance shouldn’t be overlooked. He was a vital bridge between what might have been the most unwatchable era in NBA history and the revitalized game we see today. For a few years there, what Nash did in Phoenix gave hope to a league that could not seem to find players who could shoot straight. Nash scrapped and clawed his way into college, and then the NBA. He never stopped, and if he had, we might not have the NBA we have today.