PHOENIX — Maybe Steve Nash was taking advice from the man he’ll forever be tied to.
“You chase a championship … and sometimes you should take care of (the moment) a little bit better,” said Mike D’Antoni back in 2013, when the then-Lakers coach returned to Phoenix again leading Nash.
So when Nash returned to Phoenix on Friday retired as a basketball player and ready to be inducted into the Suns’ Ring of Honor, the two-time MVP admitted that he’d struggle to accept all he accomplished as a Sun.
The quiet Canadian would do his best.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to try to actually take something in in my life,” Nash said before his Ring of Honor induction ceremony. “I downplay everything and I deflect, and I have a hard time really kind of accepting, in some ways, my successes. And I think I worked really hard at it and I should try to enjoy tonight and enjoy what we did. It’s not easy for me. I really struggle with kind of being comfortable in being applauded. Having said that, it’s been incredible.”
When Nash finally got onto the court for his Ring of Honor ceremony, he took his time to give his thanks. He was patient with his speech but words seemed hard to come by.
“This doesn’t feel real right now. I got a couple things to admit: I didn’t prepare a speech and they gave me a lot of drinks,” Nash told the crowd. “I didn’t write a speech because I feel like I’m in my living room right now.”
Nash’s honor months after he announced his retirement was the result of what he did in that living room.
The NBA’s third-leading career assists leader and one of its best shooters in history was drafted by the Suns in 1996 and after two seasons with Phoenix left for six successful seasons with the Dallas Mavericks. His return as a free agent signing in 2004 led to the D’Antoni and Nash-led Suns taking the league by storm with a 31-4 start behind a break-neck style of small ball with a spaced floor.
What followed was a lot of winning over the next eight years.
The Suns’ style is widely credited for changing the NBA from the defensive-minded, grind-it-out play in the 1990s to the free-flowing landscape of today. During that time, however, Phoenix would never reach the NBA Finals.
“It was a special, special time because something was happening that we didn’t really know was at the time,” Nash said. “We played a style of basketball — I think people the world over have stopped me in the streets all over the globe and said, ‘I loved watching you guys play on the Phoenix Suns.’ That’s not a championship but it’s incredibly rewarding to know we touched people in that way.
“It’s very special for me to be back and share this moment with everybody.”
Nash, considered the ultimate teammate and professional, couldn’t pick out a favorite team or memory in Phoenix. He said that he’ll remember specifics of games or series if he’s reminded. He does remember the relationships forged with his teammates and Suns staff members, and the road trips, dinners and bus rides they shared.
That would include Alvin Gentry, who replaced D’Antoni and as an assistant coach with Golden State last season said the Warriors’ championship vindicated D’Antoni’s belief — teams that play small-ball and bomb away from the perimeter can win titles.
“Losing burns but you roll the dice and you play for everything, and you lose and it burns forever,” Nash said. “That’s what makes the game great. Not everybody can win. That’s what makes it beautiful.
“I don’t really think of it in (championship) terms but I do take some pride in the fact that people wanted to emulate the way we played. There’s nothing more gratifying to me than the respect and acceptance of your peers, players, coaches and fans that have wanted to see that style of basketball.”
Fans will remember Nash’s passing and his shooting. They’ll remember the success he had with Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire, Pat Burke, Markieff Morris and everyone in between. But between his chronic back issues, a Robert Horry hip-check, an eye swollen shut and a bloody nose, fans will most remember Nash’s competitiveness.
Nash thanked his mother for instilling that in him.
“I could never (wuss) out of anything,” he said of her.
That edge, funny enough, might have been what had driven Nash to his success — and struggling to talk about himself.
“Strategically, to keep going forward, I’ve always tried to dismiss everything,” Nash said of accepting his accomplishments. “I don’t have to play tonight, I don’t have to play tomorrow, so I can take some time to enjoy it.”
With D’Antoni again by his side, Nash’s Ring of Honor banner was unveiled.
“I still look up to all these guys,” Nash told the Ring of Honor members present. “It’s great to be among you guys.”
Finally, he was able to enjoy it.