A Journey from Unknown to NBA Legend to Head Coach.
Image C/O: ClutchPoints
The year is 1991 and a young 17 year old basketball player in Victoria, BC is in the process of leading his school to the BC AAA Provincial Championship with stats like 21.3 ppg, 11.2 apg and 9.1 rpg. His coach, Ian Hyde-Lay has sent inquiry letters and highlight reels to 30 NCAA universities and not one recruitment call came. Then, Santa Clara coach Dick Davey decided to take a leap and contacted Hyde-Lay to get more footage of the 6ft 3in Point Guard. Davey thought he was a pretty good offensive player but also would remark that he was “the worst defensive player he had ever seen.”
He took that leap though and offered him a scholarship for the 1992-93 season. It had been five years since the Santa Clara Broncos were given a birth to The Big Dance but they looked set to break that streak. The tall, lanky freshman led the team to the West Coast Conference title and a berth in March Madness. That saw them matchup against a loaded No. 2 seed in the Arizona Wildcats. The upstart Broncos would go on to upset the 'Cats before losing to Temple in the next round.
The following season would see some hard times before a rebound in the 1994-95 season would see them once again top the WCC and run into the tournament before hitting a hard pressing Mississippi State squad.
Upon learning he wouldn’t be drafted in the first round of the 1995 NBA Draft he returned to school for one final season. During the 1995-96 season he began to gain a bit of attention. He had spent the summer working with the Canada National Team and NBA players Jason Kidd and Gary Payton. The senior season gave more fruits as the Broncos once again snagged the WCC Title and a first round win in the NCAA Tournament against No. 7 Maryland before being eliminated by Kansas. Accolades began to pour in from he Associated Press and the USBWA and then the best of them all, being selected 15th overall in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns.
Steve Nash had arrived at the point of his basketball career he never expected. Being an NBA Draft Pick!
The Suns fans were livid as many booed the announcement of this extremely still unknown player amongst the likes of players such as Tony Delk, Jermaine O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Derek Fisher who were still on the board.
But the selection was driven by then Suns Assistant Coach Donnie Nelson, who had met Nash back during his high school time in Canada. Nash would be paired with players like Kevin Johnson, Sam Cassell and Jason Kidd, already an All-Star player.
Nash would be with the Suns for 2 seasons before being traded to the Dallas Mavericks following the 1998 NBA Draft so he could reunite with younger Nelson, now AGM of the Mavs and his father Don Nelson.
The 1998 season arrives at this is where the legend of Steve Nash is truly born. Nash breaks out and becomes one of the NBA’s best Point Guards and one of the top players overall of the decade.
With the purchase of the Mavs by billionaire Mark Cuban, a new arena, the arrival of Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley, the Mavs had their “Big 3”. Nash would average 17.7 ppg, 7.3 apg and All-Star honors. The Mavericks would find themselves multiple times in the Western Conference Finals and always running into at the time a very loaded NBA Champion squads of the San Antonio Spurs or strong play of the Sacramento Kings.
After the 2004 season, his contract in Dallas came to a close. While Nash had desire to stay in Dallas, he wanted to be sure he would be a part of the plan for years to come. In trying to negotiate a long-term contract Nash was offered a four-year deal worth $9 mil per season and a partial 5th year option.
And then the old ball club came calling. The Phoenix Suns would offer six-years and $63 million as Nash would sign and go on to take home two League MVP awards in his Return to the Desert.
Nash would accomplish the same results in Phoenix, leading the Suns to the Western Conference Finals while falling to the NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. The remainder of time between 2004 and 2012 would be a wild ride, seeing him play with players like Amar’e Stoudamire, Shawn Marion and even an already 4-time NBA Champion Shaquille O’Neal.
He would leave the Suns after the 2011-2012 season and head for the coast to join some old friends with the Los Angeles Lakers. It prompted a jersey change for Nash as his traditional No. 13 hung from the rafters in honor of Wilt Chamberlin. Nash chose to wear No. 10 in homage to world class players of soccer such as Zinedine Zidane and Lionel Messi. He would have two lack-luster seasons hampered by injuries before finally succumbing to retirement before the 2014-2015 season.
Nash left the NBA as one of the greatest players in history, 5-time leader in assists per game, 6-time leader for total assists, two-time leader in free throw percentage, a 4-time member of the 50-40-90 shooting percentage club which is more than any player in history. There are only eight players to do this and only two, the other being Larry Bird, to do it twice.
So how does all this pertain to Steve Nash being hired at the newest and 23rd head coach of the Brooklyn Nets? Well, you need to turn to Nash in his post-playing career. He clearly showed throughout his playing career as the one who looks to always develop his skills, better his play and be cerebral with the strategy of play on the court.
In 2015, he was brought on board in the Golden State Warriors organization as a Player Development Consultant. This would allow him to work with the management and head coach Steve Kerr on draft selection and player training and development management. With a new found lineup built around players like Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Steph Curry, there was hope they could develop from individual talents into cohesive units like Nash had experience with in Phoenix and Dallas and Kerr had experience with as a player with the 6-time NBA Champion Chicago Bulls.
In his first season, the Warriors would go 73-9 before falling to Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. That script would flip in the following season as the Warriors would be dubbed Champions and Nash would have his first NBA title in his career.
So there’s something to be said that Nash knows a thing or two already about coaching and developing players. Just look at his career as a player, see how players in Phoenix and Dallas became better with his leadership and teaching on the court, see what he did with Kerr and the staff on the Warriors and now maybe you understand how Nash has arrived in Brooklyn.
And yes, there’s some help, two players by the names of Durant (who won with Nash’s help in Golden State) and Irving (who won and lost to Nash while he was with the Cavaliers). They are both now in Brooklyn with the Nets and were part of the lobbying effort to get Nash to become their coach. The NBA is at a turning point in the way the game is played and if you look at the teams having success in recent years it’s from the “new generation” of former players turned coaches. To be fair, Steve Kerr had no head coaching experience, in fact like Nash he had no coaching experience of any kind, until he took over the Warriors in 2014. Since then, Kerr has won 3 NBA titles and amassed a 337-138 record in his 475 games coached included 3 60+ win seasons, a feat never before achieved.
Nash is cut from a different mold of player, much like Kerr was and with that being said, while his career journey may have been different in stature than his former office mate, he has the chance to potentially bring the Nets to a level they haven’t been to in 17 years.