B.C.’s Steve Nash calls it quits after an improbable Hall of Fame NBA career

This column could have been about the B.C. government’s feeble 20 cent raise to the minimum wage, or it could have been another lament about the state of the debate around the ongoing transit referendum. But instead I thought I’d focus, for a change, on something good that’s come out of Victoria.

Steve Nash retired from professional basketball last weekend, marking the end of a remarkable career. Nash led the NBA in assists five times, earned eight All-Star game appearances and, most incredibly of all, won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards during his years as a star point guard with the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns.

SteveNashAlthough he was actually born in South Africa, Nash grew up in our provincial capital, dominating provincial high school basketball and then playing at Santa Clara college in the United States. Nash also didn’t start playing organized basketball until he was 13. Despite his late start, Nash’s all-around athleticism and obsessive work ethic served him well. He defied the odds just by making it as a pro basketball player – that he accomplished so much he’s almost guaranteed a spot in the Hall of Fame defies belief. Nash leaves the game as by far the most celebrated Canadian NBA player in history.

For B.C. basketball fans, Nash’s retirement is a chance to celebrate the local kid who made it and had a singularly outstanding career. It’s also a painful reminder that Vancouver’s short-lived pro basketball franchise is a distant memory. Die hard, nostalgic Vancouver Grizzlies supporters often lament that management didn’t draft or trade for Nash. The thinking is that if Grizzlies’ general manager Stu Jackson had had the good sense to acquire Nash, Vancouver might still have an NBA team.

So why write about Steve Nash in this space, and not just leave it to all the sports pages in the country? Because Nash was unique and noteworthy, off the court as well as on it. In 2003, while a member of the Dallas Mavericks, Nash took the occasion of the league All-Star game to lambast then President George W. Bush’s plans to invade Iraq. This was at a time when huge demonstrations were taking place worldwide to try and prevent the war. I remember the excitement those of us involved in the local anti-war movement felt when we read about Nash’s anti-war comments.

Then in 2010, while playing for the Phoenix Suns, Nash spoke out against Senate Bill 1070 targeting immigrants and minorities in Arizona. He made his opposition to the frankly racist legislation clear in interviews, and then joined teammates in donning ‘Los Suns’ uniforms during a playoff game as a show of solidarity with the state’s Latino population.

Some of Nash’s off-court assists were more philanthropic than political, but are nonetheless noteworthy. When the NBA Grizzlies left town they left hanging a youth basketball league run jointly with the YMCA; Nash stepped in and made a contribution to help the league continue operations.

Steve Nash will also leave another legacy, far beyond the youth league and his increasingly ubiquitous fitness centres. This generation of young NBA players and emerging stars includes a bigger cohort of Canadian players than ever. No doubt many thousands of youngsters first hit the courts after learning about Nash and watching him play.

Steve Nash was sui generis, on the court and off. Here’s hoping he keeps making those good off-court plays in retirement.