Steve John Nash was born on February 7, 1974 in Johannesburg, South Africa. His father, John, played professional soccer, a vocation that took him and his family all over the world. Steve’s mother, Jean, was a sports fan, so she didn’t mind the globetrotting lifestyle. As John’s career wound down, the Nashes settled in Canada. They first lived in Regina, and then moved to Victoria City on Vancouver Island (which is located on Canada’s west coast, less than 30 miles from Washington). By this point, Steve had a younger brother, Martin.
Being so close to the U.S., Steve enjoyed many of the trappings of the normal American kid. One of his passions was professional wrestling. Hulk Hogan was the star of the circuit, and Steve was a loyal Hulk-a-Maniac. He was also a sports nut. While not an especially impressive looking athlete, Steve excelled in just about everything he tried. Analyzing situations and processing information were two of his greatest assets, so naturally he did well in games of strategy. In elementary school, in fact, he won three chess titles.
It came as no surprise
that Steve developed into a talented soccer player. Though John and Jean
didn’t push either of their sons into any specific sport, they loved
the idea of one or both of them following in their father’s footsteps.
Steve, who received a soccer ball as a gift for his first birthday, showed
real promise on the pitch. So did Martin. Both boys had good speed, and
thanks to their dad, a wonderful feel for the game.
Steve, however, was too much of a gym rat to limit himself to one sport. He enjoyed lacrosse and rugby, and like any right-thinking Canadian kid, he was crazy about hockey. His favorite team was the Vancouver Canucks, but his idol was Wayne Gretzky. Undersized and often underestimated, the youngster identified with the Great One, who relied as much on guile and hard work as he did on God-given ability to become the most productive player in NHL history. Steve imagined himself being an equally accomplished professional athlete, though he had yet to decide on which sport he would pursue.
Then he discovered basketball. Steve played in an organized league for the first time in the eighth grade, at which point he told his mom that he would one day be an NBA star. Considering Steve’s slight build—not to mention Canada’s underwhelming hoops legacy—this seemed like an unrealistic goal to say the least. What’s more, Steve appeared to have a brighter future in other sports. He attended St. Michaels University School, and as a junior was named British Columbia’s most valuable player in soccer. A spot on the Canadian national team was his for the taking.
But Steve refused to give up on his hoops dream. St. Michaels coach Ian Hyde-Lay had never had a kid quite like his little point guard. Steve worked on his game non-stop, and his desire to make his teammates better was unmatched. He possessed ankle-breaking quickness, was fearless going to the basket and kept opponents honest with a more-than-reliable jump shot. The summer before his final year at St. Michaels, Steve visited Long Beach State in California for a short stint to test himself against some of the West Coast’s top high schoolers. He passed with flying colors. His confidence growing, he had a great senior season, averaging 21.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 11.2 assists and leading St. Michaels to Canada’s Provincials tournament.
Both Steve and his coach believed he could play major college basketball in the U.S. The problem was that hardly anyone else did. In 1991 and 1992, Hyde-Lay wrote and called more than two dozen Division 1-A programs in the States, including Arizona, Duke, Indiana, Maryland and Villanova. Every response was the same: No Thanks. For motivation, Steve put every rejection letter in a shoe box (which, legend has it, he still keeps to this day).
The one school that expressed interest in Steve was tiny Santa Clara, a Jesuit university about an hour’s drive south of San Francisco. Hyde-Lay sent game film to assistant coach Scott Gradin, who broke out laughing when he watched the video. Admittedly, Steve didn’t face the stiffest competition in high school, but opponents were literally falling on their backsides trying to guard him.
Gradin spoke to Broncos head coach Dick Davey, who flew to Canada to watch Steve in British Columbia’s senior boys’ AAA championships. Fearing he was in for the recruiting battle of his life, he was shocked to find no other American scouts in the stands at Vancouver’s Agrodome. Davey met with Steve afterwards, and offered him a full ride. The one stipulation was that Steve had to focus on becoming a complete player. Davey told the teenager that he was flat-out the worst defender he had ever seen. That was no problem. Steve was willing to do whatever was asked of him.
At Santa Clara, Steve joined a program not exactly steeped in tradition. The school’s most famous basketball alum was Kurt Rambis, the bespectacled NBA veteran who helped Pat Riley’s Showtime Los Angeles Lakers to four championships in the 1980s. When Steve arrived on campus in the fall of 1992, it had been five years since the Broncos had appeared in the NCAA Tournament, and only once in the last three seasons had they posted a record above .500. Even back in Canada, Steve got ribbed about his college choice. His friends jokingly referred to Santa Clara as “Santa Claus State.”
With Steve in the fold, Davey, in his first year at the helm for the Broncos, liked the talent he had to work with. Pete Eisenrich was an Academic All-American, DeWayne Lewis was an emerging star, and forwards Kevin Dunne and Jason Sedlock helped fill out a strong freshman class. That being said, the season preview guides said the Broncos would be lucky to climb out of the West Coast Conference cellar.
Dire predictions aside, Steve was in heaven in his new surroundings. A free thinker and quick with a smile, he made friends easily and was a favorite of his professors. And it was rare that he was seen without a basketball in his hands. Steve never had any problem talking his way into Toso Pavilion, which was where he could be found when he wasn't in the classroom. The teenager spent more than one night shooting jumpers into the wee hours of the morning.
Steve’s work ethic rubbed off on his teammates, and the Broncos surprised onlookers with a 9-5 league record during the regular season. The team really kicked it into gear in the postseason, winning the WCC tournament to earn a spot in the Big Dance. Steve, who was spectacular, became the first freshman in conference history to claim tourney MVP honors.
As a no. 15 seed, Santa Clara didn’t have any grand illusions heading into March Madness. Their first-round opponent was high-powered Arizona, which had a legitimate shot to reach the Final Four. But the Broncos came out firing, and raced to a 12-point lead late in the first half. Coach Lute Olson calmed his club, and the Wildcats turned the game around with a 25-0 run. Trailing 46-33, Santa Clara caught a break when Chris Mills picked up his fourth foul. With the Arizona star on the bench, the Broncos mounted a comeback and reclaimed the lead. Clinging to a three-point margin, Santa Clara milked the clock, forcing the Wildcats to foul. They kept sending Steve to the line and he kept converting his free throws, including six in a row down the stretch. When the final horn sounded, the Broncos celebrated their 64-61 shocker.
Santa Clara’s bubble burst in the next round, as Temple’s three-headed backcourt of Aaron McKie, Eddie Jones and Rick Brunson was too much to handle. Thanks to their upset of Arizona, however, the Broncos remained one of the tournament’s best stories.
Steve rode this wave of momentum into a summer full of hoops. First he played for British Columbia in the Canada Games, and walked off with a bronze medal. Then he did himself and his country one better in the World University Games, helping Team Canada advance to the final, where they faced a U.S. squad that included Michael Finley and Damon Stoudamire. Though the Americans captured the gold, Steve and his teammates returned home as conquering heroes.
Steve showed up at Santa Clara for his sophomore year eager to continue his run of success. But the 1993-94 edition of th Broncos struggled to meet expectations. They went just 5-7 in conference play, and ended the year a game under .500 overall. Steve played well, boosting his scoring to more than 14 points a night and topping the team in assists and steals, but he hated that the team posted a losing record.
The Broncos rebounded in the 1994-95 campaign by finishing first in the WCC with a 12-2 mark and then winning the conference tournament. Steve was the key. The league leader in scoring (20.9 ppg), passing (6.4 apg) and 3-point shooting (45.4%), he was named the WCC’s player of the year. His two most memorable performances were a 40-point game against Gonzaga, plus an effort versus St. Mary’s in which he converted all 21 of his free-throw attempts.
The Broncos returned to the Big Dance, but couldn’t summon any magic against Mississippi State. They lost 75-67, and watched the rest of March Madness from home.
After the season,
Steve toyed with the idea of going pro, but thought better of it after
learning he was considered no higher than a second-round pick. Instead,
he took out a $1 million insurance policy and prepared for his senior
By now, Steve was beginning to attract the attention of the national media, not to mention pro scouts. He split the summer between another stint with the Canadian national team and workouts in California with two of the NBA’s best, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton. Playing against the pair of All-Stars provided invaluable experience. Steve learned how to use his body more effectively when going to the hole, and perhaps most important, convinced himself that he could make it at the next level.
The consensus opinion said that Steve was the college game’s most polished playmaker. Underclassmen Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury were more explosive scorers, but both looked shot first, pass second. Steve, unselfish to a fault at times, preferred to set up his teammates.
For the 1995-96 season, those teammates included Dunne and Sedlock, also back for their final seasons, and junior Marlon Garnett, an excellent long-range shooter. Deep in veteran leadership, coach Davey’s squad was eager to prove itself against the nation’s elite. The Broncos turned plenty of heads in the campaign’s opening months with victories over UCLA, Michigan State and Oregon State. In the win over the Bruins, Steve poured in 19 points and held his counterpart, Cameron Dollar, scoreless.
As the experts predicted, Santa Clara captured the WCC regular-season title, and Steve repeated as the league’s Player of the Year. Entering postseason play with high hopes, the Broncos were stunned by 9-17 Pepperdine in the first round of the conference tournament, which put them on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. With the team’s fate in the hands of the selection committee, Steve and his teammates prayed for an at-large berth. They got their wish, though they drew a tall task in opening-round opponent Maryland, which had won its first game in 12 previous NCAA appearances.
The Terrapins came out pressing, but Steve was up to the challenge, handling the swarming defense expertly and getting the Broncos lots of good looks. With Maryland on its heels, Santa Clara went to the foul line 41 times, converting 34 of their attempts. A 14-0 run in the second half ultimately spelled the difference as the Broncos cruised 91-79. Steve was the game’s star with 28 points and 12 assists.
Santa Clara ran out of gas in the next round against Kansas, losing 76-51. Steve had a tough night, shooting just 1-of-11 from the field. His performance against the Jayhawks aside, Steve felt he had done more than enough in his Santa Clara career to overcome any concerns NBA teams had about him. For good measure, he sparkled in the Nike Desert Classic before the draft, averaging eight assists a game and making the all-tournament team. But NBA scouts were still concerned about his spindly 6-3 frame and ordinary 31-inch vertical. He lasted until the 15th pick in the first round, when the Suns grabbed him.
The plan in Phoenix was to use Steve as the understudy to veteran Kevin Johnson. Eventually, team management reasoned, he would be ready to take over the starting job at point guard. But the Suns quickly shifted gears, pulling off several major trades that changed the franchise mindset. Charles Barkley was dealt before the 1996-97 season for Mark Bryant, Chuck Brown, Robert Horry and Sam Cassell. Then in December the club acquired Kidd, now an All-Star with Dallas. Once coach Cotton Fitzsimmons got a feel for his new roster, Phoenix gelled and surged into playoffs. There they met the equally athletic Seattle Supersonics, who dispatched them in the first round.
For most of the season, Steve rode the pine. Early on, he saw quality minutes, and even started a game in November, tallying 17 points and 12 assists in front of friends and family in Vancouver. But the additions of Cassell and Kidd left little PT for a third-string point guard, and he finished his rookie campaign with forgettable numbers.
didn’t increase much the following season. With Danny Ainge in as
head coach for Fitzsimmons, who retired after five years at the helm,
the Suns ratcheted up their running game. The first-year coach liked his
second-year guard, but with two All-Star talents in the mix, there wasn’t
room for him. Kidd was sensational in Ainge’s system, leading the
break and feeding polished finishers like Antonio McDyess, Danny Manning
and Rex Chapman. Phoenix raced to a record of 56-26, good for third place
in the Pacific Division, and then got bit by the injury bug. Manning tore
up his right knee, and Chapman hurt a hamstring. The undermanned Suns
drew San Antonio in the playoffs, and the Spurs overpowered them.
Despite his limited action, Steve was viewed by many as one of the league’s most improved players. He ranked 13th in the league in 3-point shooting (41.5%), and nearly doubled his scoring average. He gave much of the credit for his development to Kidd and Johnson. Both pushed him in practice, encouraged him away from the court and were generous in sharing their insight.
No one was more impressed with Steve than the Mavericks’ assistant coach, Donnie Nelson. The two had known each other for years. When Steve was at Santa Clara, Nelson was working for the Golden State Warriors, and they became friends. Nelson next moved on to Phoenix, where he convinced the club to draft Steve. When Nelson later hooked on with his dad in Dallas, he kept a close eye on Steve. Upon learning that the point guard might be available, son prevailed upon father, and on Draft Day of 1998, the Mavs packaged Bubba Wells, Martin Muursepp, a first-round pick and the rights to Pat Garrity for Steve.
Dallas figured it had engineered a steal, and quickly signed its newest addition to a six-year, $33 million deal. But in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign, Steve was terrible, shooting just 36% from the field and averaging less than eight points a game. His poor play was one of many problems that plagued the Mavs, who posted their 10th losing year in a row. It got so bad for Steve that the Dallas fans booed him unmercifully and Nelson began using journeyman Robert Pack at crunch time. Steve offered no excuses, even though he was dogged by injuries. He suffered through a painful case of plantar fasciatis in his right foot for most of the year, and also missed the final 10 games of the season with a strained back.
MAKING HIS MARK
Steve dealt with the disappointment of his first year in Dallas by playing more basketball. At Olympic qualifying in Puerto Rico, he led Canada to a surprising second-place finish behind the U.S. Steve earned honors as the tournament MVP, and the Canadians secured a berth in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.
When Steve showed up for training camp with the Mavs in the fall of 1999, he was his usual charming self. Despite his poor performance the prior season, he was the club’s most popular player. Michael Finley appreciated his intensity on the floor and the way he built chemistry off it. Steve’s friendship with youngster Dirk Nowitzki was a perfect example. Steve was the first to welcome the European star when he arrived in America in 1998, and the two grew thick as thieves. Along with Finley, they were forming a promising nucleus in Dallas.
But the Mavs were still a few years from turning the corner. In fact, the 1999-00 campaign was most notable for off-court activities. In January, billionaire Mark Cuban bought the team, and among his first moves was signing Dennis Rodman. The rebounding demon and celebrated headcase caused as many problems as he solved. Dallas waived him in March.
By then, Steve and the Mavs were starting to come into their own. After missing 25 games with a right ankle strain, he returned to spark the club, recording six double-doubles in points and assists over the campaign’s final month. With Finley and Nowitzki also playing well, Dallas wound up at a respectable 40-42.
After a brief rest, Steve left with Team Canada for the Olympic hoops tournament in Australia. Head coach Gus Triano put the onus on his point guard, telling him the squad had no chance without him scoring big. Steve accepted the challenge, and then engineered upsets of Yugoslavia, Russia, Australia and Spain. A step away from the medals round, the Canadians came up short when France got smart and triple-teamed the hot-shooting point guard.
Steve next re-joined
a Dallas team coming off its best record in a decade, and looking to continue
its improvement. A solid start proved Steve, Finley and Nowitzki were
the real deal. As the trade deadline neared, Nelson hoped to add a final
puzzle piece, pulling the trigger on a blockbuster that brought All-Star
Juwan Howard on board. The team went on to a 53-29 mark and advanced to
the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
philosophy was simple. He put the ball in Steve’s hands, and let
everyone else run with him. The Mavs finished in the NBA’s top five
in points per game, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three-point
field goal percentage. Named Comeback Player of the Year by Basketball
Digest, Steve was the catalyst, establishing career-highs in scoring
(15.6 ppg), passing (7.3 apg) and rebounding (3.2 rpg). Season highlights
included a 17-assist performance at Utah and a 31-point outburst at home
against the Lakers. The boos of the previous year were replaced by standing
In the playoffs, the Mavs found themselves in a big hole after dropping the first two of their five-game series to the Jazz. But Dallas rebounded to even things up, thanks in part to Steve’s 27 points in Game 4, and then won the decider at Utah. They were just the sixth team in NBA history to come back from a 0-2 deficit. Exhausted from their spirited rally, the Mavs were no match for the Spurs in the next round, losing the series in five games.
The next few years in Dallas became a game of "Changeable Charley." With the Spurs and Lakers featuring the league’s top two big men in Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal, the Mavs were constantly rearranging their roster to make up for their lack of a dominant inside presence. In the 2001-02 season Nelson pulled off another major trade, acquiring Raef LaFrentz, Nick Van Exel, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Avery Johnson. After christening the new American Airlines Center, the Mavs surged to a team-record 57 wins, and then swept Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. Again, however, Dallas could advance no farther. This time it was the Kings sending them packing in five games.
Despite the loss to Sacramento, the campaign confirmed that Steve had truly arrived. At the urging of Nelson, who felt the Mavs were most dangerous when his point guard was scoring, he shot more often and increased his output to nearly 18 points a night. Ironically, forcing the action also had the effect of opening more opportunities for teammates, as Steve upped his assist total as well. Steve was selected to the Western Conference All-Star team for the first time, and he, Nowitzki and Finley garnered praise as the league’s top trio. He continued maturing as a leader, too. Steve welcomed the additions of Van Exel and Johnson, seeing the chance to catch a little extra rest every now and then. That being said, he was the only Maverick to play all 82 games.
The 2002-03 Mavericks
made Nelson’s 25th year as a head coach a memorable one. The club
opened the year with 14 straight victories, one short of the NBA record.
After storming through the regular season at 60-22, the Mavs came within
a two wins of advancing to the NBA Finals. The triumverate of Steve, Finley
and Nowitzki was nearly unstoppable. They combined for more than 60 points
a game, with any of the three capable of taking over on any given night.
Steve, the team's third leading scorer (17.7 ppg) and the top assist man
(7.3 apg), established career highs in free throws made and attempted,
free throw percentage, steals and blocks. He also set a franchise record
by making 49 free throws in a row, surpassing the mark of Dallas legend
In the playoffs, Steve led a Dallas attack that featured a bigger scoring threat from Van Exel, who upped his average to nearly 20 a game. Steve played solid ball, averaging more 16 points and seven assists a night. Dallas started the postseason like a house afire, taking three straight against Portland. But the Blazers came back to win three and force a seventh game. Playing at home, the Mavs were able to finish off Portland, 107-95.
Round Two was another seven-game classic, this time against the Kings. After dropping the opener in Dallas and losing the homecourt advantage, the Mavs won the next two, including a 141-137 double-overtime thriller in Sacramento. The rest of the games went to the home teams, as Dallas advanced to the conference finals for just the second time in franchise history.
Unfortunately, there was little they could do against Duncan and Spurs, who won three of the first four and took the series four games to two. Steve and his teammates then watched in frustration as San Antonio beat the Nets in the NBA Finals, knowing New Jersey was a team they could have beaten, too.
The Mavs felt the 2003-04 season would finally see them take the final step in the West. Instead, they bowed out in the first round to the Kings. The team lacked two precious commodities, cohesion and a commitment to defense. Nelson, with the blessing of Cuban and his deep pockets, kept on fiddling with the roster. First he picked up Antawn Jamison, Danny Fortson, Jiri Welsch and Chris Mills from Golden State in exchange for Van Exel, Johnson, Evan Eschmeyer, Popeye Jones, and Antoine Rigaudeau. Then he sent LaFrentz, Mills and Welsch to Boston for Antoine Walker and Tony Delk. But even with someone as adept at building chemistry as Steve, the Mavs were no more than a hodegpodge of mismatched offensive stars.
They were great during the regular season, joining the Lakers, Kings and Spurs as the only teams to post at least 50 victories four years running. Particularly tough at home, Dallas boasted a franchise best 36-5 record at the American Airlines Center. But the Mavs folded in the playoffs, as Sacramento ran them off the court, beating them handily at their own game.
In the walk year of his contract, Steve had another strong season, scoring 14.5 points a game and dishing out almost nine assists. He got kudos from players leaguewide for keeping all of his ball-hungry teammates happy. The media loved him, too, as Steve was named to the NBA All-Interview First Team.
But the revolving door that had become the Mavs ushered him out before the 2004-05 campaign. The up-and-coming Suns needed a veteran hand to guide an impressive arsenal of young guns that included Amare Stoudamire, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson. Steve was the perfect fit. He could push tempo, distribute the ball and knock down jumpers from anywhere on the floor. Phoenix tendered the free-agent guard a five-year deal worth more than $50 million. The Mavs chose not to match the offer, and Steve joined the team with which he had started his pro career.
Phoenix coach Mike
D’Antonio welcomed his new star with a backyard barbecue, and Steve
was an immediate hit with his teammates. Appearing decidedly more mature
with a fresh buzzcut, he embraced his role as his club’s elder statesman.
(Underscoring this point was the fact that his girlfriend, Alejandra Amarilla,
was expecting twin girls in the fall.)
Little slowed down the run-and-gun Suns after Steve came aboard. He endured a few injuries during the '04-05 campaign, but when he was in the lineup, Phoenix played like a runaway freight train. Indeed, the club raced to the conference’s best record (62-20) and earned homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.
With Steve running the show, the Suns were the NBA’s most exciting team. Stoudamire continued his development as one of the league's true superstars, while Marion, Johnson and Richardson all quickly learned the upside of playing alongside Steve—get open and he'll get you the ball. Phoenix was the NBA's highest scoring club during the regular season, and Steve topped the league in passing at 11.5 assists a game. He also shot better than 50% from the floor for the first time in his career, and even posted a triple-double, going for 12 points, 12 assists and 13 rebounds in a March blowout of Allen Iverson and the Sixers.
Not surprisingly, Steve was one of the leading candidates for MVP. Many in the media expected Shaquille O'Neal to walk away with the hardware, but in the end voters couldn't ignore Steve's impact on the Suns. As the playoffs began, it was announced that he had won the award.
Phoenix took care of business in the first round, sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies in four. Steve was uncharacteristically quiet in the series. His shot selection was questionable, and he seemed a step slow. His lethargic play spilled over into the next round, as the Suns split their first two with Mavs. With some speculating that Steve was worn out from his breakneck regular season, he recharged his battery and authored one of the most dramatic playoff stretches in recent memory. In Game 3, Steve spearheaded a 17-point laugher in Dallas with 27 points and 17 assists. Two nights later, he exploded for 48 points, but the Mavs evened the series with a 119-109 victory. Against his former mates, however, Steve had something to prove. He carried the Suns in the next two games, recording a triple-double in the team's Game 5 win and missing out on another by one rebound as Phoenix closed out Dallas in Game 6. If anyone was unsure of Steve's status as league MVP, he erased all doubts.
Unfortunately, the Suns' post-season run ended in the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio. The Spurs were simply too much for Phoenix to handle. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili thrived in the Suns' up-tempo style, and the club had no answer for Tim Duncan. Coach Gregg Popovich threw varied defensive looks at Steve, and rotated the players guarding him. He put up good numbers, but had to work much harder for them.
All things considered,
the Suns and their fans still celebrated the '04-05 campaign. The franchise
re-establihsed itself as a serious contender for the NBA title, and no
club in the league was more fun to watch. Meanwhile, Phoenix has already
begun finetuning its roster for 2005-06. The acquisition of Kurt Thomas
from the Knicks (for Richardson) should give the team more balance in
paint and lessen the pressure on Stoudamire to battle the NBA's top big
men by himself. As far as the backcourt is concerned, Steve, as the league's
reigning MVP, has things covered. Not bad for a player whose idol growing
up was a hockey player, and who still calls Canada home.
Steve proves you can’t judge an NBA player on his appearance alone. Indeed, he looks more like the team manager than an All-Star point guard. But make no mistake, Steve is a marvelous talent and steely competitor.
One of his strengths is his court vision. Steve always sees the open man and gets him the ball for a good look. When he drives the lane, he’s more likely to pass than shoot. He’s at his best on the break, when his decisiveness and creativity are most evident.
Steve is a steady shooter with good range. If opponents leave him too much room, he’ll knock down 3-pointers until they finally crowd him. He takes a lot off-balance shots, but has a knack for making them, along with his fair share of crazy-looking layups. His trademark shot is a 15-foot floater. Steve likes to draw contact, partly because he’s so deadly from the foul line.
Steve relies heavily on quickness, both to release his shot and to penetrate to the basket. This skill also serves him well on defense. Steve won’t shut anyone down, but he anticipates extremely well, which produces steals and helps him grab rebounds and loose balls.
Steve has never had a teammate who didn’t rave about him. Not only is he liked as “one of the guys,” but he is respected as a leader. He enjoys the pressure of the big game, and wants the ball in crunch time.
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