For millennials in Canada, the epitome and shining example of this fable is best told through the journey of Victoria-native Steve Nash who, through trials and tribulations rose to prominence in a sport dominated by American players blessed with world-class size, speed and strength.
Growing up in a relatively unknown basketball market in Victoria, BC, Nash dominated competition in high school but wanting to play US college basketball, could not garner the attention of scouts and coaches south of the border. Seen as a skinny, undersized guard, Nash received a single scholarship offer from Santa Clara University. Despite not being a top program at that point, Nash decided to go anyway to pursue this dream. Dribbling tennis balls on campus to improve his ball-handling skills and spending countless hours in the gym, Nash would go on to star for the Santa Clara Broncos, leading them to the NCAA Tournament in three of four years at the school.
Nash’s success at the college level silenced his early critics and after his career at Santa Clara, he went 15th overall to the Phoenix Suns in the 1996 NBA Draft. Nash had finally achieved his dream of playing in the NBA but in Phoenix he found himself part of a crowded backcourt with elite guards Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson playing in front of him. Starting only 11 games over his first two seasons, Nash was the odd man out and was subsequently traded to the Dallas Mavericks.
Alongside German big man Dirk Nowitzki, Nash would flourish in Dallas being named an All-Star during the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons (where he averaged a career-best 19.3 points per game). At this point in his career, Nash had already cemented himself as the most successful Canadian player in NBA history. However, in 2004, Nash signed with the team that originally drafted him (Phoenix) as he clearly had some unfinished business where it all began. He went on to capture back-to-back NBA MVP awards in 2005 and 2006, being the first Canadian and international player to do so. In his first year back with the Suns, Nash also led the team to their most number of wins (62) in a regular season (tying the 1992-93 team). Despite not garnering the minutes and success he wanted in his earlier days with the Suns, Nash currently finds himself atop a number of statistical categories in franchise history including games played among guards (744), 3-pt field goals (1051), and assists (6997).
Much like his journey from high school to the pros, Nash faced some setbacks on the international stage. As a teenager, Nash was cut from the Canadian junior national team. Wanting to represent Canada all his life, nearly a decade later Nash jumped at the opportunity to lead an underdog Canadian team that consisted of one other NBA player (Todd McCullough) to a surprising seventh place finish in the 2000 Summer Olympics. While this is still the best showing in Canadian basketball history at the Games, Nash was determined to see Canadian basketball achieve more internationally. In 2012, Nash accepted the post of General Manager of Canada’s senior men’s basketball team, where he aims to lead Canada to its best showing at the next Olympic Games in 2016.
Nash’s relentless dedication and drive has inspired the next (and arguably most talented) corps of Canadian basketball talent. Lakers teammate and North Vancouver-native Rob Sacre knows how fortunate he is to not only have learned from Nash growing up but also have an opportunity to train and play alongside him at the pro level. In an interview with Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times, Sacre said, “He's always in the gym, working on his game, improving, trying to get better […] I definitely try to mimic my game after that.” Per the Boston Herald’s Mark Murphy, Celtics center and Kamloops-native Kelly Olynyk echoed similar praises for Nash and what he has done for young Canadian players. “He’s paved the path for all of the Canadian kids to come up and rise to where we are today […] He’s helped a lot. He helped me a lot. He put a lot of young Canadians on the right path.”
With Canadians being taken first overall in the last two NBA Drafts, basketball in this country is more prominent than ever before and many, if not all Canadian players give kudos to Nash for the example he set. Steve Nash epitomizes what it means to never give up on your dreams. His story is one that many kids in this province and country have latched onto for inspiration since his early days at Santa Clara.
Tonight, we are proud to celebrate Steve’s achievements both on and off the hardcourt, honouring both his athletic legacy and dedication to giving back through countless charitable initiatives. For any athlete doubting their abilities, Steve Nash remains a shining example of how far drive and determination can take you.