His age? "It is irrelevant," Suns coach
The Suns had no business opening the season 7-1 with a 37-year-old small forward in
As recently as four years ago, Nash was winning back-to-back MVP awards, so he is ambivalent about compliments that he is now overcoming his age.
"A challenge?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't know if it's that, or if it's just another burden. I've had doubters since I was in high school. Once you finally think it's over, then they think you're too old. In some ways, I'm accustomed to it and I don't mind it -- it's just the way it's always been for me. That underdog mentality is just ingrained in me."
Last year, Nash heard whispering suspicions of erosion in his play. The 46-36 Suns were missing the playoffs for the first time in five years, and Nash's 9.7 assists and 15.7 points reflected a statistical decline. All of those numbers, he says, were reflections of a circumstance -- the half-court presence of
"The way we played at the start of the year, we wanted Shaq down low and we wanted
Instead of looking to escape Phoenix as a free agent in the summer of 2010 -- the yellow brick road for free agents -- Nash chose last summer to sign a two-year, $22 million extension with the Suns that will be paying him $11.7 million as he turns 38 in 2011-12. To see the renewal of his old self is to understand why he chose to remain with the Suns, based on his affinity for Gentry and an organization that (except for last year's brief deviation) has shared his commitment to team play in the open court.
Less understood was the Suns' plan to rebuild around a point guard in his late 30s in addition to Hill, who also agreed last summer to a two-year deal worth $6.2 million through next season.
"There's been a lot of criticism, from what I've seen, of, What are we doing? Are we going young? If we're going young, why would we sign Steve Nash? Why would we sign Grant Hill?" Suns general manager
"How many point guards are there in the league that you would rather have besides Steve? He's still one of the best. Those guys are hard to come by. We never considered trading him."
The inspired enthusiasm, the absence of body fat, the wispy hair falling in his eyes -- all of this makes Nash the
"Other than the experiment where we played a post-up style," Nash said, "my numbers and my effectiveness haven't changed. I think it was a little misleading or nearsighted for people to feel that my level of play has dropped dramatically, or at all."
Because he wasn't ready to scale back his ambitions, Nash approached this season knowing he would need to prove himself all over again. He loves making that point with each flick pass off the dribble, with each Roto-Rooter drive down the baseline and out the other side, with each crosscourt floater or fallaway three-pointer.
"It's having a challenge in my life, having something to go to bed thinking about and wake up having to pursue," he said. "Without that, life can be difficult. Obviously, I have my family [with his wife,
"Some days are hard, but for the most part I still love it. I love being one of the guys, I still love waking up and going to work and trying to get better every day and trying to prepare to play, and after I play try to recover and get ready to play the next game. It gives me something to set goals and challenge myself and be directed."
Already this season, he's gotten the best of younger rivals
This is the first Suns team in 19 years to score triple figures in its opening eight games. Of course, that pace can't go on all year. They're hitting an outrageous 47.1 percent of their threes (and 50.2 percent of their shots overall), and Hill is their leading rebounder with 8.6 per game. They are, in all kinds of ways, a team in transition. And over the next five months, their weaknesses up front and on the bench will begin to show.
Even so, Nash will continue to provide hope of defeating those challenges, and he'll overcome more of them than any soon-to-be 36-year-old point guard should. Simply because he makes it fun.