Anyone who watches basketball knows that two-time MVP Steve Nash has helped to boost the careers of many of his teammates. But it’s his leadership away from the court that really deserves some recognition, especially during this offseason of awfulness where it’s the millionaires versus the billionaires.
While the sting of an unpleasant labor talk reverberated through the NBA blogosphere yesterday, Steve Nash had better things to do. Nash spent his day with the kids of Camp Simcha, a camp for children and teens who are living with cancer and other blood-related illnesses. Nash took part in a day of festivities, and of course put the kids through some basketball drills. Before he left he left the kids with this message:
“We all have disabilities, and yet we all have tremendous good in each one of us. Each of you here is a superstar with a lion’s heart. Stay strong.”
So often, people assume that players do these things because they have to. Because there’s an obligation or a PR opportunity to be had. Steve Nash isn’t one of those guys. He is one of the most vocal and philanthropic professional athletes we have across in any sport. He speaks his mind, but also puts his money and time where his thoughts are.
In an interview with Dime Magazine, former NBAer and current writer Paul Shirley talked about Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, praising Nash for his leadership skills. While most people will likely focus on how Shirley said Stoudemire’s work ethic wasn’t great, the praise he gave Nash was exemplary. Besides saying that he has the alpha personality and the alpha work ethic to go along with it, he summed up the difference between Stoudemire and Nash by saying:
Like, Amar’e Stoudemire, great basketball player, not a terrible human being, but not a particularly hard worker. So if he sees Steve Nash take a day off, he will think to himself, “I can do what I want” because our quote-unquote leader is slacking off. When that leader is so committed every day to doing everything right — that doesn’t mean he doesn’t makes mistakes, but showing up on time, working hard, listening to the coach, all those things — everything else falls in line because they respect that ability of the best.
Shirley continued with the Nash love and was asked about the difference in how Nash leads as compared to Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant:
He’s more of the by-example sort. He’s not afraid to say what he thought, talk about what needs to be changed. I think that’s probably the flaw with Kobe Bryant and what people see with his personality on the court. They can just tell people will follow him only so far because he doesn’t treat them very well. Like, Nash is not only going to tell you, “Hey, I need you to do this,” he’ll come back and say “Thank you for doing that, I appreciate it.” Bryant is apt to roll his eyes when a teammate misses a shot. Garnett, from my limited experience, is more like Nash. He just seems to get it as good leaders of men do. He knows when to push and pull, and give a little bit of encouragement and come back around with criticism. That’s hard in all walks of life, whether it’s basketball player or president of the United States.
It’s not often that a Canadian NBAer is compared to the president of the United States, but if ever that’s going to happen, it makes sense that it’s Nash.
I saw Nash’s humanity for the first time four years ago, during the first NBA game I ever covered. It was a preseason matchup between the Suns and Seattle SuperSonics (RIP), held in Vancouver (also RIP). After tossing his shoes into the crowd, Nash walked into a packed interview room to talk to all of the reporters that had come out to see him. On his way, he noticed a family in the back of the room. The family had recently lost their son. Nash immediately went over to them and comforted them, hugging, talking, smiling and looking at photos of their son that was gone far too soon. While we waited, silently touched by the emotion openly being shown by the family and by the genuine humanity being shown by Nash, we all knew we were watching something beautifully real born out of a painfully fresh tragedy.
Moments like that — coupled with the quick apology he gave to us all for making us wait when he did make his way to the podium that day — show who Nash is away from the dizzying passes and pretty layups. He’s a leader, yes, but he’s also a human who realizes the most important thing that there is to know: We are all the same. Regardless of age, ability, color, profession, regardless of the lot we were given in life or the struggles we’re overcoming or the success that we are enjoying, we’re all connected and our greatest accomplishments come from helping those around us.
Nash is an amazing point guard and a special kind of leader, but let’s not forget that it’s his assisting off the court that defines who he is more than anything else. Ask the kids at Camp Simcha. This is a great thing.