Give the Suns credit.
An organization that has taken its fair share of hits –both locally and nationally for almost two weeks now –avoided a major gaffe Wednesday night.
With 5:18 to play in the opening quarter during the first timeout of the game, fans were directed to the video board. Skylar Grey’s “I’m Coming Home” played as images and highlights detailing Steve Nash’s past eight seasons in Phoenix flashed across the large screen.
As the video tribute played over the next minute plus, the message, “THANKS STEVE” in bold block lettering was displayed on the scoreboard above.
The 17,184 fans in attendance rose to their feet to applaud the one-time face of the franchise.
Nash came out of the Lakers huddle and acknowledged the cheering crowd with a couple of brief waves with both hands.
“Very flattering and very sweet of the organization,” Nash said afterword. “It was very, very kind of them.”
The gesture on the part of the Suns marked a dramatic departure from previous such anticipated returns.
Shawn Marion. Amar’e Stoudemire. Mike D’Antoni.
None of those three individuals, all whom played vital roles in the Suns’ successful run at the turn of the century, received a proper welcome back.
Marion ranks among the top three Suns of all-time in minutes played, field goals made, steals and rebounds. He was a four-time All-Star during his eight-plus seasons.
Stoudemire is the franchise’s sixth-leading all-time scorer, was a five-time All-Star in his eight seasons and won NBA Rookie of the Year in 2003.
D’Antoni led the Suns to a pair of trips to the Western Conference Finals, including 2005 when he was named NBA Coach of the Year. He has the third-most wins (253), second-most playoff wins (26) and second-best winning percentage (.650) of any of the eleven head coaches in club history.
Yet, for one reason or another, those accolades did not merit anything more than a standing ovation from those in attendance during pregame introductions.
The Suns very easily could have followed the same precedent with Nash.
However, Nash is different.
He’s the team’s only two-time NBA MVP, a six-time All-Star and the franchise leader in four statistical categories: assists (6,997), 3-pointers (1,051), free throw percentage (90.7 percent) and 3-point field goal percentage (43.5 percent).
He’s also second in double-doubles (342), third in games played (744), seventh in points (10,712) and tenth in steals (511).
But more important than the numbers, Nash uplifted a fan base. He brought a franchise back to national prominence with the most exciting style of basketball seen in years, which resulted in three trips to the conference finals.
The Suns Wednesday embraced that past and the accomplishments of one of the greatest players to ever put on the orange and purple.
“It was a great reception, obviously,” Nash said. “This is a very special place for me and to be recognized by the fans was incredible. I’m definitely very grateful to them for the reception but for also my time here, which is amongst the best years of my life.”