It was a day that Steve Nash had foresaw coming about a week to 10 days following the Los Angeles Lakers’ first preseason game in early October.
The 41-year-old’s body wasn’t responding the way he had hoped although he initially felt that he was in great shape physically and was capable of remaining relatively healthy for all of the 2014-15 season. He had progressed well in the offseason that included training twice a day, and even had some encouraging moments in training camp.
He also chose to ignore subtle hints that doctors had warned him about the ongoing nerve damage in his back. Nash wanted to give it another try, and did so by exercising every option he had his disposal to stay healthy and in shape.
However, that all work and good feeling about his health heading into his 19th season quickly vanished following the Lakers’ first preseason game as his body felt like a “mess” afterwards, and it was all he needed to know about what he was physically capable at this point in his career.
“I really thought I was going to get through the year,” Nash said. “After a few minutes on the court, I clearly wasn’t. I might of been unable to play at the level I wanted for a month after one 24-minute preseason game. That was kind of the reality of an 18-month staple size. I was looking at and saying this was the way that it has been, and I will be lucky to play 10 games this year. It was just so much fighting everyday with myself and my body.
“There was a lot of stress and anxiety that came with that. In the end, I don’t know if that clouded my judgement and made me feel like I can do this and get there and prolong that kind of realization that I wasn’t going to get there. In the end it became pretty clear, and the decision was made for me. I just realized I wasn’t going to be able to sustain it and wouldn’t be able to help the team this year.”
He had met with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak just days before the start of the season and came to decision to sit out the entire year. Nash felt that he needed to step away from the game, and had the option to medically retirement but wanted to leave open to the option for the team to possibly make use of his salary in a trade.
So after he finally announced his retirement this past weekend in a letter on the Player’s Tribune, Nash sat at a podium Tuesday afternoon in a suit and tie in front of a Lakers’ backdrop for a press conference discussing his decision to finally step away from the game he had played professionally for nearly half of his life.
Nash began by giving his appreciation to the Lakers’ organization that took a chance on him in hopes of another championship banner, and treated him with the utmost respect through the injuries and failure to reach those expectations both sides had sought out to accomplish.
“The one thing I want to say is a huge heart-felt thank you to the Buss family and the entire Lakers’ organization. It was just an incredible experience to be apart of that with the history and tradition,” Nash said. “Obviously it didn’t go the way we planned, but I was treated incredibly (well) during my time here. I had unparallelled level of support here, and people rooting for me in this building.
“I will forever be grateful for that. In many ways it’s made a great experience despite the disappointment. A big thank you for the incredible amount of support and great experience regardless of not meeting our goals.”
After he many heated playoff series as a member of the Phoenix Suns against the Lakers and much disdain for the team, Nash admitted that he “put my foot in my mouth” before he signed with Los Angeles.
Despite that, he had come with high aspirations and much excitement when he joined the historic franchise back in July 2012. Those expectations never came to fruition due to persistent back and leg problems, which he acknowledged was one of the most troubling times of his career where he felt he worked his hardest to get through.
“For it just not to be in the cards was a failure and also a huge disappointment. It’s been a difficult period of my career and my life to battle through that to try and make something out of it, which was fruitless in the end,” Nash said. “But I know that I never worked harder, and never wanted something more it was just something that wasn’t meant to be.”
Throughout his time with the Lakers, Nash also stated that he had much gratitude for the unwavering support from the fans as he fought through the injuries to get back on the court.
“People in Los Angeles have been incredible. I have never had anyone say a negative thing to me in person,” Nash said. “In fact the amount of support I have gotten for the effort and the constant fight to get back on the court to overcome the broken leg and nerve issues has been incredibly touching. There is a lot of class and a lot of people that are completely gracious, and the organization has led the way for me.”
At the same token, he also understood the frustration and anger for Lakers fans hoping his arrival was going to propel the team to another championship.
“I get it. The fans don’t know the whole picture. I get that they are passionate, especially online,” Nash said. “I don’t have a real problem with that. If you play professional basketball for 18 years you face your fair share of criticism no matter how much success you have. “
That said, it was a finish to a Hall-of-Fame caliber career that saw him accomplish many feats such as winning two MVP awards, being selected to eight All-Star games, and finish third all-time in NBA history in assists. For Nash, it was a career that he felt his hard work and dedication to the game allowed him get past a problematic back that he had known about since his third year in the league and was able to play through at a high level into his 40s.
Nash believes his career is a story of a player who fought against the odds, and hopes can be a source of inspiration for the future generation of NBA players.
“I think that’s what makes my story interesting is that I had one scholarship offer, and it wasn’t ever a for sure thing. I had to overcome a lot to get to the level that I wanted to get to,” Nash said. “I think the key ingredient was a lot of hard work. I think people have taken note of that, and for me it’s another source of pride. My story is something that kids can relate to, learn from, and set an example of one way to approach the game. It feels good to leave that behind as my story.”
It was an illustrious career that he accomplished so much, but had the one noticeable blemish in no championships won. However, Nash is not bothered by that fact because of all the hard work and countless hours he put into the game, and also pointed that many other past great players fell into that same category of not winning an NBA titles.
“There’s a lot of disappointment to not win a championship in my career. At the same time, I definitely left it all out there. There have been a number of players that have had tremendous careers that haven’t won a title,” Nash said. “They probably feel similar to the way I do. Disappointed and wish we could of have taken that final step that wasn’t to be. Again, my time playing this game was incredible. I played on some great teams and had a lot of success. I just wasn’t able to get over the hump a few times.”
Nash also made it clear that he didn’t want to discuss his legacy to the NBA, but did express much appreciation for the support he has received from peers past and present, and hopes to have impact on next wave of players.
“To walk away with that respect and admiration is the greatest gift,” Nash said. “To get it from your peers and guys that I am looking forward to watching play for the next 10 years is very very special.”
With his career now finished, Nash wants to make the city of Los Angeles his permanent home in the place where his children go to school. Outside of shifting much of his focus to his family, he hopes to have an answer within the next year to what he will do next in the new stage of his life.
In that same regard, Nash is still open to helping the Lakers for the time being as he still plans to continue to work with Ryan Kelly, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson, who calls “an incredible pupil.”
He is also willing to lend a hand to help the team in any aspect such as recruiting free agents as he wants to see the franchise get back to being a championship contender.
“Obviously who knows what the future holds but I’d loved to see that,” Nash said. “The franchise come back in full force. I am definitely open to helping out.”
Ultimately, what Tuesday marked was an end of the an incredible NBA career, and when people look back on him as a player Nash wants to be remembered for just two things.
“I simply want people to remember me as a competitor and a great teammate. That’s it. Those are the two most important things,” Nash said. “To compete every day, and to show up for your team and teammates, be accountable, show up in big games and big moments, and to be a great teammate. That’s all I can ever ask for.”
Bob Garcia IV
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