It feels important to me that I got to grow up watching Steve Nash play.
In 1996, when Nash was picked up by the Suns in the first round of the NBA draft, I was four and understandably clueless about everything that didn’t involve me putting my thumb in my mouth. I think I had a Phoenix Suns hat that I tried to force-feed my dad’s cat. Maybe I dreamed that.
Nash didn’t really come back to the Valley from Dallas until I was old enough to stay up to watch a whole game if it tipped at 7 p.m. My dad had a beer in his hand and we sat on this new leather couch my mom had saved up for almost a year to buy, and I remember telling my dad I didn’t think purple and orange “went together.”
“Watch the game,” he said. “Also, don’t tell your mom I have a beer by the couch.”
As a preteen, you notice a lot of things you don’t know you know until you’re old enough to really process them. As I leaned back in my chair Saturday morning after seeing Nash had decided to retire, I started really thinking.
I began to realize things about my parents that I didn’t even know I’d been holding on to.
My dad, for example, is a former amateur racecar and go-kart driver and is currently a cyclist. He builds the things he rides, whether it has a motor or not, and to me his word is absolute truth.
But I can’t really remember him talking much about many athletes like how my other friends’ did and he was never the type to hang a jersey up or collect his favorite team’s memorabilia. He collects parts and tools and keeps up with Indy Car racing in France.
He’s mentioned many drivers and cyclists, and I’ve forgotten all of their names. But three traditional-sport athletes still stick out to me when I think about my dad: Pat Tillman, Levi Brown and Steve Nash.
The first time I ever saw him choke up was when he said the words “friendly fire.”
“Levi Brown: Human turnstile,” he’d say, snorting.
Well, he told me that if I was ever going to do anything like anybody, “do it like Steve Nash.”
His word, as I mentioned earlier, was sacred truth at the time. My mom, a coach and athletic trainer echoed the sentiment.
“Nails,” she said. As in, tough as.
It was settled.
So, I paid attention to Nash. I saw how he didn’t really seem to have a regard for what he looked like – 6-foot-3, floppy hair that was always soaked by the second half. He just played. He played really, really hard.
And he was good. I’d never seen someone with such controlled intensity; snappy passes and jukes and dribbles my friends would try to imitate in their driveways, cool as could be at the line, and to me it seemed like he always, always hit the three when his team needed it. Watching him play, I was seeing beauty in sports at an age much too young to realize how important that was.
In my pre-teen eyes, it was because of Nash that stars like Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion and Grant Hill were good too. The Suns were fast because of Nash; the Suns were good because of Nash. My dad said so. Law.
So then the Suns became “a thing” in my family, and in other families too. The Lakers were the brats of the league, the Spurs the Evil Empire and I remember my dad breathing like Darth Vader when we were watching the Suns play them one time years ago, on that same couch. Almost every other native Arizonan my age that I know really, really hates the Spurs.
I think about all of these things now and realize it wasn’t just me watching those games and rooting for No. 13, it was everybody my age. Other parents were telling their kids “do it like Steve Nash.”
We were doing what most of our parents had not.
We were growing up in Arizona, with a basketball team that had a franchise player who wasn’t just the best in the league; he was a really good guy, too.
Me, and thousands of other 14-year-olds, were sitting on couches with our family rooting for the same guy and the same team. A culture was forming where there had not been one.
We, unlike our migratory parents, had roots in Phoenix Suns basketball and they started with Steve Nash.
That feels pretty important to me.