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Steve Nash Day 2 after NBA MVP acclaim
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Grabbing the spotlight

 

CP) - When Steve Nash collected the NBA's Most Valuable Player award Sunday, he became the game's biggest salesperson in Canada.

The unassuming point guard has inspired a generation of budding young basketball stars across the country with his image as your average everyday Canadian, say Canada Basketball officials, and they hope to see a spike in would-be Nashes signing up to play the game.

"Kids respect him, and look up to him, he's such an excellent role model," said Walter Edwards, Canada Basketball's associate executive director. "I think now it's only going to provide hope for a lot of kids that, there is talent in Canada that is capable of rising to NBA all-star status, not just making the NBA, but NBA all-star status."

Nash edged Shaquille O'Neal for the MVP award after sparking a stunning turnaround with the Phoenix Suns this season. The point guard from Victoria became the first Canadian and only the second international player after Nigeria's Hakeem Olajuwon to win the award.

But for all his exploits south of the border, Nash is very much involved at the developmental level back home. Canada Basketball is in the process of expanding the B.C.-based Steve Nash Youth Basketball League across the country, a program Nash single-handedly saved from a certain death after the Vancouver Grizzlies departed for Memphis in 2001. His mom Jean runs the grassroots program, which is designed for kids from Grades four through seven.

More than 8,000 kids participated in the popular program in B.C., this past year, more than double the number from before Nash took it over, and kids from the program piled onto 13 buses to travel to Seattle to see the Suns play the Sonics.

Edwards said they plan to have the nationwide Nash program in operation by September of 2006.

The Victoria guard is an easy sell. Kids love him because they can relate to him.

"He's really one of us," said Edwards. "He's just a normal guy, doesn't possess any one particular outstanding skill, he just works hard and does everything well."

When Canadian men's team coach Leo Rautins meets with up-coming players, he holds up Nash as an example of how hard work pays off.

"Here's a guy who's no different than these kids sitting in the gyms, 14 and 15-year-olds that I talk to," said Rautins. "Steve didn't have any more talent, jumping ability, quickness, size, anything than a lot of these kids, but he just worked his tail off to get where he is, to now get MVP. . . to me that's such an attainable something now for these kids to grasp."

They can also grasp the fact Nash is only (maybe) six foot three.

"Shaq's seven feet, 300 pounds," added Rautins. "How many of us can identify with that? I told the kids, if Steve walked in here, outside of the hair, you wouldn't recognize him. Yet he's the MVP of the NBA."

Jay Triano, Nash's good friend and former national team coach, travelled to Phoenix for Sunday's announcement. He said Nash, the heart and soul of the Canadian team for nearly a decade, inspires young players to reach that much higher.

We encourage our players to want to be good, but when one of our own makes it to the NBA, and then becomes the best player in the league, it's got to be inspiring for every kid who plays basketball," said Triano. "There's a lot more people who can relate to him, instead of having him be a seven-footer where kids are going to say 'I'm never going to grow.'

"People can relate to this, and it just shows with hard work and determination, anything's possible.

"You don't have to come from Toronto, you don't have to come from a big city, there's no excuses."

Because of the rigours of the NBA and the wear-tear on his body from a decade of playing year-round, Nash says he's likely played his last game for the national team.

But he confirmed Sunday there's a good bet he'll be in Toronto this summer, hosting his first charity all-star game. He's awaiting final approval from the league to host the game, which would fill a void left by the departure of Vince Carter, who hosted an annual game before the Raptors traded him to New Jersey.

And chances are Canadians will be seeing much more of Nash. While Nike execs were tight-lipped about their plans to market the point guard, he will likely be front and centre in ad campaigns for the running shoe company in the near future.

"Stay tuned," hinted Nike's Derek Kent.

"We're so proud of Steve and what he's achieved this season," added Kent. "He's an amazing ambassador for the brand on the court and off the court, he's well-spoken, community driven, a team player, and he's a wonderful face for the brand."

Rautins also made the big leap from growing up in Canada to playing in the NBA, playing two seasons with Philadelphia and Atlanta. He says the growth in the game in Canada since he played is mind-boggling.

"The impact of the NBA has been so great, you just see it all the time. When I grew up, you were lucky to see a game a week (on TV)," said Rautins. "Whereas now, you can see all the basketball you want, and you can also go and see it in person.

"When I said I wanted to be an NBA player, if you really think about it, it was kind of crazy. For one, nobody did it. And you never saw it (on TV). So it was kind of unrealistic. Now if a kid says I want to do that, there's more opportunities than ever to get there."

The 31-year-old Nash has paved the way for plenty of talent coming up behind him, Rautins said.

"I think at last count, there were 79 (Canadian) guys in the NCAA, over 100 playing overseas in some of the best leagues in the world. I've just encountered maybe 20, 30 high school kids heading to Division 1 schools next year, good schools like Syracuse, Michigan, UCLA, Pepperdine, Wisconsin. . . the list is unbelievable," said Rautins, whose son Andy will be a freshman at Syracuse next season.

 

 

COMMENTARY

By Michael Ventre

NBCSports.com contributor

The Donald Sterling Booby Prize for the 2004-05 NBA season, named after the perennially bumbling Clippers owner and given annually to the man in a decision-making position who commits the most boneheaded move of the year in basketball, this year goes to Jerry Buss of the Lakers in a landslide not seen since the days of Ted Stepien in Cleveland.

After all, Buss traded away Shaquille O’Neal to Miami, then watched as his own team experienced an Enron-like crumble while the Heat soared to the No. 1 seed in the East.

While Buss certainly is in a class by himself this year, other candidates made the competition interesting, including Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos and henchman John Weisbrod for running off Tracy McGrady; new Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for firing Paul Silas and turning a playoff contender into a mental ward; Hornets owner George Shinn and his team, for their entire body of work; and the new management team of the Atlanta Hawks, for excellence in maintaining continuity over the previous administration.

But at least a rousing honorable mention has to go to Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, for his decision to let Steve Nash walk.

On Sunday, Nash was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. He took a Phoenix Suns team that finished 29-53 and out of the money and transformed it into one that finished 62-20 and No. 1 in the Western Conference.

Granted, his replacement in Dallas, Jason Terry, is no slouch. He is a fine all-around point guard. And unlike the Lakers, who wound up in the NBA’s outhouse this year, the Mavericks are still playing, having advanced to the conference semifinals — against Nash’s Suns.

Yet the Mavs’ problem has always been their penchant for spinning their wheels and never getting anywhere. So letting Nash sign as a free agent in Phoenix was Cuban’s curious way of shaking things up. As a result, it took the Mavs seven games to fight off the Houston Rockets, the oldest team in the NBA.

There are intangibles in basketball, like leadership, mental toughness, a sense of the game, unselfishness. Those are the areas where Nash shines the most. Those are the areas in which the Suns needed help, and where the Mavericks will now struggle.

Nash excels in the all-around game. He scored 15.5 points per contest, outstanding for a setup man whose job is to get the ball to others. And when he needed to score, he did so efficiently, hitting 50 percent of his field-goal attempts, a rarity for a guard. He also canned 89 percent of his free-throw attempts.

But his real value comes in getting the ball to others. This year he joined a team with skilled finishers in Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson and averaged 11.5 assists. Like most great point guards, Nash sees the whole court, and anticipates well. When a playoff game is on and a chess game breaks out, Nash can see three or four moves ahead. He runs the Suns’ high-octane offense like a grand master.

His decision-making ability is also without peer. Because he is such a threat to score, the temptation is always there. Kobe Bryant suffers from an acute inability to know when to shoot and when not to. Nash has no such problem. His court generalship is impeccable.

Granted, his replacement in Dallas, Jason Terry, is no slouch. He is a fine all-around point guard. And unlike the Lakers, who wound up in the NBA’s outhouse this year, the Mavericks are still playing, having advanced to the conference semifinals — against Nash’s Suns.

Yet the Mavs’ problem has always been their penchant for spinning their wheels and never getting anywhere. So letting Nash sign as a free agent in Phoenix was Cuban’s curious way of shaking things up. As a result, it took the Mavs seven games to fight off the Houston Rockets, the oldest team in the NBA.

There are intangibles in basketball, like leadership, mental toughness, a sense of the game, unselfishness. Those are the areas where Nash shines the most. Those are the areas in which the Suns needed help, and where the Mavericks will now struggle.

Nash excels in the all-around game. He scored 15.5 points per contest, outstanding for a setup man whose job is to get the ball to others. And when he needed to score, he did so efficiently, hitting 50 percent of his field-goal attempts, a rarity for a guard. He also canned 89 percent of his free-throw attempts.

But his real value comes in getting the ball to others. This year he joined a team with skilled finishers in Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson and averaged 11.5 assists. Like most great point guards, Nash sees the whole court, and anticipates well. When a playoff game is on and a chess game breaks out, Nash can see three or four moves ahead. He runs the Suns’ high-octane offense like a grand master.

His decision-making ability is also without peer. Because he is such a threat to score, the temptation is always there. Kobe Bryant suffers from an acute inability to know when to shoot and when not to. Nash has no such problem. His court generalship is impeccable.

Cuban surely understood Nash’s value, but believed he could replace him. Terry certainly is a solid candidate. But Terry has never been a superlative table-setter. As a scorer, Terry comes close to Nash in almost every statistical category. But as an assists dispenser, he is fair to middling, averaging just 5.4 per game. His career assists average over his previous five NBA seasons is 5.5, so that total isn’t out of character for him. And the team Terry is with now presents far more opportunities to amass assists than his previous club, the chronically anemic Atlanta Hawks.

What does all that mean? Well, nothing if the Mavs happen to pull an upset. But that’s unlikely. The Suns are playing the best basketball in the league right now. True, they aren’t much of a defensive club, and defense usually wins in the NBA postseason. Yet the Suns are so potent offensively that they might just be that odd team that defies conventional wisdom and outlasts even the stingiest of defenses

What the Mavericks needed this year more than anything else is grit. They did get somewhat tougher with the addition of a real center in Erick Dampier. But mentally, the jury is still out. A team does not kiss off a competitor and team leader like Nash and then take a giant step forward.

If form prevails and the Suns knock off the Mavericks, it will be sweet revenge for Nash, although he is not Shaq and won’t toss verbal grenades at his old employer. When the Mavericks didn’t leap at the chance to lock him up with a new contract last summer, he wasted no time in finding a new home.

Yet there is professional pride at stake. No player likes to feel as if he’s a castoff, and especially a premier player like Nash. As nice a guy as he is, as classy as he behaves, it’s still an insult.

The Suns-Mavs confrontation won’t have the buzzards swarming like last December’s Christmas Day reunion between Shaq and Kobe. It won’t be as testy as the Pistons-Pacers. But there will be an underlying tension: Nash will want to show Cuban he was a fool, while Cuban will want to prove he is one high-profile meddling owner who knows what he’s doing.

The money here is on Nash.

STORY 2

NEW YORK (Ticker) - After being officially named as the NBA Most Valuable Player, Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns showed why he is the consummate team guy.

On Sunday, Nash became just the second point guard in 40 years to win the prestigious award, edging out center Shaquille O'Neal of the Miami Heat in the fourth-closest margin since the media began voting in 1980-81.

As Nash was being presented with the award, he requested that his teammates join him on the podium.

"For me to come into a new situation and be accepted and form the bond that we have is special," Nash said.

Nash received 65 of a possible 127 first-place votes and 1,066 points to 58 first-place votes and 1,032 points for O'Neal from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada.

Nash also became the first Canadian citizen to win the award. The only other international player to earn the honor was Hakeem Olajuwon of Nigeria for the Houston Rockets in 1993-94.

"I understand the people in Canada are fired up and that's great," Nash said. "I'm happy they're excited."

The 31-year-old Nash signed as a free agent with the Suns last summer and quarterbacked a 33-win improvement, one of the best in NBA history. Phoenix went from a 29-53 mark and the draft lottery to a 62-20 record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

The driving force was Nash, who piloted the Suns' relentless up-tempo attack with a league-leading 11.5 assists per game. He also averaged 15.5 points and was one of just three guards to shoot better than 50 percent.

With Nash, the Suns were 60-15. Without him, they were 2-5.

"Steve runs the show out there for us," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He really deserves this award for the way he made us a team."

The 6-3 Nash joins 6-9 Magic Johnson as the only point guards to win MVP awards since 6-5 Oscar Robertson won for Cincinnati in 1964. Nash also is among the shortest MVPs in history, joining 6-1 Bob Cousy and 6-foot Allen Iverson.

"You're going to look at that list and say 'who does not belong' and my name will come up," Nash said. "It's just incredible. I'm there with my heroes."

Nash's scoring average is the lowest for an MVP since Bill Walton won with Portland in 1978. He joined Charles Barkley (1993) as the only Suns to win the award.

It is another snub for O'Neal, one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history who has won just one MVP award. He is a three-time NBA Finals MVP.

O'Neal, 33, also was responsible for remarkable improvement with a new team. He was traded by the Los Angeles Lakers last summer to the Heat, who improved 17 games to 59-23. Without O'Neal, the Lakers stumbled from 56-26 last season to 34-48 and the draft lottery.

Perhaps a victim of his immense size, the 7-1, 330-pound O'Neal averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds. He was the only player to make better than 60 percent of his shots.

After a team practice on Saturday, O'Neal was informed that Nash had won the MVP award. The superstar center acted disappointed and feigned tears, but then smiled and congratulated Nash.

Forward Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks did not get a first-place vote, but was third overall with 349 points.

Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers won his fourth scoring title and received two first-place votes, but finished fifth overall in the balloting. He won the award in 2000-01.

Two-time MVP Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs had one first-place vote and was fourth overall.

Forward Amare Stoudemire of the Suns also received a first-place vote, but was 10th overall.

Iverson was followed by LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tracy McGrady of the Houston Rockets, Dwyane Wade of the Heat and Ray Allen of the Seattle SuperSonics.

Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 2003-04 MVP, finished 11th in the voting.

story 3

 

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