How do you do it, Mr. Nash?

How do you explain a kid from Victoria who doesn’t just build NBA castles in the air but also manages to “put foundations under them”, as Thoreau advised? How does a guy go from barely holding his own playing pickup ball as a freshman at the University of California-Santa Clara to being two-time Conference Player of the Year? (And, in a Sports Illustrated feature, being labelled “Little Magic” by Mr. Johnson himself.) What changes that fine college player from a three-year professional backup to an NBA All-Star? And what took Steve Nash, in his 30s, from “nice little player” to two consecutive Most Valuable Player trophies, something that Larry and Wilt, Kareem and Michael have done, but that only Magic had ever done from the point guard spot?

I just re-read Jack McCallum’s SI feature “Point Guard from Another Planet” from the January 30 edition. The best quote came from Nash’s younger brother Martin – clearly a superior athlete to Steve – who asked, “How do you explain where drive comes from? That Steve drive – who knows?” We just have to shrug our shoulders and acknowledge the ridiculous: this double-MVP coup is the greatest individual athletic achievement by any Canadian, ever. And I include Number 99, the one that Nash most resembles in his intuition, his modest physique and subtle way of dominating his sport. Nash won’t have Gretzky’s astonishing career numbers – it is likely that nobody in any sport ever will – but he is swimming circles around enormous fish in a much bigger pond than the Great One played in.

And never mind Canadian accomplishment: this is one of the most astonishing athletic trajectories we’ve ever seen. To come from a basketball backwater and join the pantheon of basketball greats, in a time when the game has a world profile second only to soccer, is incredible. To improve upon that first MVP performance the following season, with his team having endured injury to its other star and wholesale changes, is just plain silly.  Giftedness in anything is, as Martin Nash knows, a pretty mysterious thing, but his big brother is leaving behind some tremendous clues.

 Size and strength are nice, but not essential.
“Athletic ability” is not stored only in the legs.
 Good eyes. Sure hands. Balance. Imagination. These are athletic qualities, too.

 And they still don’t tell the whole story.

 How do you respond to adversity? What happens when you fail?
 Do you know how to learn? Do you have a plan that you never lose sight of?

 Steve Nash put it like this back in January: “Most guys somewhere along the line will meet an obstacle they aren’t willing to clear….They will not keep on going. I kept on going.” Simple as that, eh?

Sure it is.

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