This story originally appeared in the Winter 2015/16 edition of School Ties. Click here to read the complete magazine.
by Ian Hyde-Lay
On October 20, 2014 I found myself in Toronto, ready to attend the Canada Sports Hall of Fame induction for Gareth Rees.
Still, my thoughts that evening were with another SMUS sporting legend, Steve Nash. He had just replied to my text message, one which wished him well as he readied for an 18th NBA season. Instead, I learned that there was to be no triumphant return from the nerve damage that had seriously impaired his two previous years with the Los Angeles Lakers. While his official retirement was not announced until a few months later, his basketball career was over.
For me, the disappointing news sparked a kaleidoscope of memories, of a young boy from Victoria who chased his dream with remarkable passion. First picking up a basketball in Grade 8, he embarked on a simply magical journey, claiming – against overwhelming odds – a staggering list of accomplishments and leaving an inspiring legacy.
Steve attended SMUS from 1990-92, leading what many hoop aficionados still regard as the best BC high school team of all time. Superbly skilled and blessed with an unparalleled work ethic, he was named the province’s Most Outstanding Player. He was an equally key piece of the school’s championship 1st XV, as an elusive runner and ridiculously accurate place kicker.
Most people know what subsequently followed, as Steve went on to graduate in sociology from Santa Clara University while directing the Broncos to three National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament appearances. A two-time West Coast Conference Player of the Year, he crowned an excellent college career by becoming a National Basketball Association (NBA) first-round draft pick in 1996, selected 15th overall by the Phoenix Suns.
Two years in Phoenix were followed by five with the Dallas Mavericks. Then, in 2004, Steve returned to the Suns, proceeding to resurrect a moribund franchise and, even more significantly, the sport itself thanks to his combination of leadership, talent, humility and selflessness. If not the greatest player of his generation, he was certainly the most influential, as he redefined point guard play. Sick of slow, stodgy, isolation-based basketball, fans worldwide embraced the new style with its emphasis on tempo, teamwork and ball movement. In Canada, thousands of young men and women looked to follow Steve’s example, as the game exploded in popularity across the country.
In typical self-effacing fashion, Steve made light of any individual recognition and instead looked to laud his teammates for their support and achievements. But two NBA Most Valuable Player awards, eight All-Star selections, third all-time in assists, and four times a member of the “50-40-90” club tell their own story. (50-40-90 indicates a great all-around shooting performance in a single NBA season. Some consider it to be the ultimate standard for shooting. Nash has the most at four, two more than any other player.) Even if he had to endure more than his share of Olympic and NBA playoff heartbreak, he could and can point proudly to multiple provincial and national Athlete of the Year awards, as well as other distinctions, including the Order of Canada. Furthermore, he was a torch bearer at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 and recently named to the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor. He will, without question, be a first ballot Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.
Of course, a true superstar also makes a massive impact off the court. Though recognized in many quarters for his service and philanthropy, his greatest contribution remains the Steve Nash Foundation. Founded in 2001, the charity focuses on under-served children affected by poverty, illness, abuse or neglect. Creating opportunities for education, play and empowerment, the Foundation has raised and distributed millions of dollars to charities all over North America and the world.
Ventures include Steve Nash Youth Basketball, neo-natal care and pre-cancer screening treatment in Paraguay, and the Gulu Walk Youth Centre for Sport, Culture and Reconciliation in Uganda. Other examples are Educare Arizona, which teaches early childhood education best practices, and the Centre for Youth Assists, a Toronto-based after-school initiative building hope through hoops.
Steve has also branched into the film industry, through his independent company Meathawk. His ESPN “30 for 30” documentary titled “Into the Wind,” about his childhood hero Terry Fox, received particular acclaim.
Steve has also never been afraid to take a strong political stance, as evidenced by his opposition to both the 2003 US war in Iraq and the 2010 Arizona Bill 1070, which at the time of passage in 2010 was said to be the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in a long time. A committed family man, he dotes on twin daughters Lola and Bella, as well as son Matteo.
Competitor and a great teammate? Absolutely, in addition to so much more. Sui Generis!