By Sean Hartnett
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For the past eight seasons, Steve Nash was the unquestioned face of the Phoenix Suns, taking the franchise to heights last seen in 1993, when Charles Barkley led the Suns to NBA Finals and lost out to Michael Jordan’s ‘three-peat’ Chicago Bulls.
Nash and the underdog Suns battled against their Pacific Division rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers in some of the most fierce, heated playoff match-ups. While Nash wasn’t able to deliver a first NBA championship to the desert, he firmly put the Suns back on the map as viable NBA contenders until owner Robert Sarver’s penny-pinching ways forced the Suns into mediocrity.
Still, Nash was ready to fight on in a Suns uniform for years to come, but Sarver was pushing for a divorce.
The thought of Nash joining the Lakers seemed like a long-shot. The New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors were first in line, but Sarver gladly handed his main asset to his rivals on a silver platter and Nash became a Laker.
“I did want to come back, move the franchise forward and leave it in a better place than the past two seasons. The Suns knew that. Once I realized they were going in a new direction, I got used to the idea that I’d be elsewhere,” Nash told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic.
There he stood at the podium on Wednesday next to Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak. Suns fans were rubbing their eyes in disbelief as Nash held up a gold and purple Lakers jersey bearing an unfamiliar number 10. The iconic number 13 from his Mavericks and Suns days wasn’t an option because of Wilt Chamberlain’s greatness in a Laker uniform.
“This is a day I never foresaw,” Nash revealed at his introductory press conference at the Lakers’ training facility in El Segundo, California. “That (jersey) was a major hurdle for me just to get over visually as a player.”
Even his long, flowing trademark hairstyle was cut to a more businesslike ‘executive cut.’ Steve Nash was indeed a Laker, and a proud Laker at that.
”It’s a franchise that I think everybody would dream of playing for,” Nash told the large press gathering.
Since returning to the Phoenix Suns in 2004, Nash came to represent everything Kobe Bryant and the reviled Los Angeles Lakers wasn’t. Now, he’ll be joining Kobe in the Lakers’ backcourt for the next three seasons in search of elusive championship ring.
Nash’s personality is the polar opposite of the cocky, in-your-face Bryant. While Kobe embraces celebrity status and high-fashion photo shoots, the humble and reluctant Nash prefers to hide from the spotlight.
Perhaps, Nash will be the sober yin that can counterbalance Kobe’s demonstrative yang. Even without ‘The Zen Master,’ the chaotic Lakers are in need of enlightenment from the wise 38-year-old Steve Nash.
During the off-season, he spends summers in New York’s West Village. Blending into the crowd, Nash skateboards around his neighborhood unnoticed and joins locals in pickup soccer.
Nash has always been the ultimate teammate. His work ethic translated across the Suns’ roster and his selfless desire to improve forced teammates to work harder in practice. He never publicly complained about Suns’ owner Robert Sarver dismantling Phoenix’s roster piece-by-piece or the way Sarver sold off first round draft picks.
Kobe on the other hand, is known to blow-off team dinners on the road, often spoke out against former head coach Phil Jackson’s triangle offense and constantly meddles in all Laker affairs.
Bryant urged Nash to consider the Lakers and really, Nash is exactly what Kobe needs. For too long, Kobe carried too much of the Lakers’ offense on his back. With Nash running the offense, Bryant only needs to do what he does best, be the shooter — the finisher.
Lakers’ legend Magic Johnson is excited by the arrival of Nash. He spoke to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.
“The excitement will be back at Staples Center. This guy is so much fun to watch. He’s a ‘mini-me’ of me,” Johnson explained.
Magic has always been a fan of Nash, taking notice of Nash during his college days at Santa Clara. Johnson signed a photo for Nash with the message — “Good luck, from Big Magic to Little Magic.”
“We’re going to get into the 100s for sure with Steve Nash,” Johnson said. “It’s almost going back to Showtime.”
Call the Lakers what you want, but it’s hard not to admire their ambition and it’s even more difficult not to root for Nash’s quest to finally get his hands on that long-awaited championship ring.
Will Nash bring ‘Showtime’ back to the Lakers? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.