Steve Nash: Follow the team or the player?

Since the Suns have lost Steve Nash from their starting lineup, I’ve been struggling to cope with learning to root for a brilliant player who happens to play for the “other” team. I’ve been a Phoenix Suns fan since I was a kid, always cheering for the likes of Dan Majerle, Tom Chambers, Kevin Johnson,¬†Jeff Hornacek and the bunch when they played at the “Madhouse on McDowell.” I embraced the “round mound of rebound” when they acquired King Charles Barkley from an ailing 76ers team in the early 90’s. I’ve watched them draft well and draft no-so-well. (Perhaps this isn’t necessarily a good thing – you only get the chance to draft well if you play poorly the year before. I can recall a stretch of a LOT of upper first round draft picks there for a bit.)¬†They’ve had their ups and downs, coming close to a playoff berth once every few seasons. I’ve seen them win big, win small, get out played, out coached and a few times just plain bullied off of the court by the bigger kid on the playground.

When KJ retired, and Kidd was eventually traded, the Suns fans went a season or two without “that guy” that we could really stand up for an cheer. Then, in 2004, they re-acquired a point guard from the Dallas Mavericks by the name of Steve Nash. And suddenly, Phoenix basketball fans had something to smile about again.

I feel blessed to have seen a truly gifted player grace our home court for the last eight seasons. We made a good run at the finals with Stoudemire a few years back. We pioneered a whole new style of basketball in which you shoot, shoot some more, shoot again without dribbling at all, play minimal defense, and outscore your opponents by 35 points each night. We learned a whole new meaning of “clutch” as number 13 effortlessly threw up running jump shots from behind the arc to seal (or steal) any number of victories for the good guys in orange. We watched him lead the league in assists for five of his eight years here. He made being a point guard look effortless. But mostly, he made his whole team better just by being on the floor.

All things must come to an end. It’s hard for me to see the value in trading a player away like Steve Nash, even for the possibility to retool the team for the future. But you can’t make a guy like that play for a team like ours forever. His talent for making everyone around him better is only seconded by his desire to be the best at what he does. And, reluctantly, I applaud the Suns for recognizing that it was time to let him try to achieve his dream of an NBA championship in a different uniform.

But, did he really have to trade his orange and purple Suns uniform for the yellow and purple uniform of the Lakers? I mean, thank-goodness it wasn’t the Spurs, but still…. kinda hard to take.

We’ve all watched Kobe, the golden-boy of the west, under Zen Master Phil, accumulate ring after ring until he was dethroned by a) his inability to get along with his center or b) inability to refrain from taking 40 shots a night or c) both. He’s talented, no doubt about it, but he’s become the guy I love to root against, for no reason other than that cocky I-make-more-money-than-you grin he wears on the court every night.

Nash finally has a talent pool surrounding him that is very capable of winning a championship. This season, right here, right now. And I have enough respect for him as a player to want to root for him to finally get the championship ring that he deserves (and that he would never have gotten in Phoenix had he stayed.)

But man… how to root for your favorite player when he’s teammates with a bitter rival? And how much love can you show a team that’s not your home team without completely flipping allegiances.

Here’s my solution. Let me know if you’ve got any other advice?

  • Draft him in the first round of your fantasy draft, passing on the likes of Lebron, Mello, Howard, Kobe, Wade, Durant if you have to, because playing fantasy basketball with your friends without having him on your squad to cheer for is not fun at all.
  • Stand up and clap in appreciation when he returns to US Airways arena next year for the handful of times the Lakers play the Suns.
  • Still root like hell against the Lakers when they play head to head.
  • Make good on your bets eventually. I think I’m still down three cases of wine, a few pints of stem cells, and a Ferrari to my Uncle Blaine for betting against the Lakers at every occasion. Really, I’m surprised that the guy agreed to marry my wife and I while I still owed him about $30,000 in gambling debts over the past few seasons.
  • Inwardly smile when your favorite player does well for “the other team.” Realize that he’ll probably still be on Sportscenter every night, and that TNT will feature his games weekly.
  • And finally, “Be ORNG” and proud of it. But, also…. hope for a high draft pick, come season’s end.