When In China

I’m not even going to try to hide any bias that I have for Steve Nash, so the following should come as no surprise. There has been a recent story that surfaced that Nash got involved in a pickup game of basketball – in China. I know, for those of you who weren’t privy to that story it is a lot to take in at once. A professional basketball player playing a pickup game anywhere other than Rucker Park is a rarity, and even at Rucker Park it is quite a spectacle. Add onto that the fact that it was in China, a product of him being there to do something with Nike.

The best part about the whole story, aside from everything mentioned above, is that he came fully dressed in a disguise. The camouflage didn’t work as intended and he was spotted before too long, prompting the Chinese onlookers to whip out their cell phones and digital cameras and snap photos of the double MVP. Giving up on the disguise, he removed the costume and continued to ball like he does. After he was done with the courts, he moved on to the soccer fields where he kept with the athletic endeavors and played some soccer with the local kids.

Come on, how cool is that? Imagine if you went out to play some touch football and across from you lined up Adrian Peterson? Other than insanely scary, the notion that these athletic idols could be within grasp is mind-boggling. It isn’t a meet-and-greet where you get an autograph, maybe a picture, possibly a handshake and then forced to keep moving after 10 seconds of small talk. This is Steve Nash dribbling up the court, performing a killer crossover, stopping short of the hoop and launching a perfect shot over you, the weekend warrior who plays because you love the game and everything it represents.

Some guys play basketball for money and their love for the game merely holds a shared existence with it. Others seemingly play because they love the game and making money is a byproduct. You can guess which one Nash is in. This pick up basketball venture by Nash speaks volumes to me about his nature. He could have scrapped the idea right away, not needing to risk injury to his ailing back or some sort of freak accident that obliterates the Suns’ chances next season. But no, he decided to invest an effort just to sneak his way onto the court for an opportunity to play in some no rules, rough basketball with some foreign competitors.

And I’m not implying that professional basketball players don’t all love the game, just that at some point the lines are blurred between a sport and a business for more than the owners and management. I think that a vast majority of players, especially American born ones, start the game because they love it, save for special occasions (freakishly tall dude who didn’t pick up a ball until the 10th grade). Somewhere along the line, however, the importance is shifted from enjoying the game to earning some coin. The two are not mutually exclusive, as the business of basketball is very profitable for all parties involved. It is just the priorities that players have can be on two extremes.

I think this pick up game is telling of why Steve Nash plays the game: to have fun. Yes, he has and will make millions to play this game, and he has also won a couple of MVPs in his time. But, when I watch him play, I see some kind of spark in his eyes that makes me think he would be just as satisfied to play on a blacktop somewhere in a park with a couple of friends. The flash and panache that he plays with originated on the courts in the cities across America, so it comes as no surprise to me that he would choose to return to those roots.

More than that, the way he plays the game is fun. The players involved, the fans, the commentators, everyone loves how he plays the game. When he is at his best, he operates the fast break like a surgeon, delicately working and cutting up his target with precision. When he is saddled with a half court offense (remember Terry Porter?) his game comes closer to ordinary than flashy, weakening his overall effect on the game. He is creative, imaginative, and artistic with the ball.

He plays basketball like most people play soccer, which should come as no surprise because of his affinity for the sport. It appears at times that he has an unspoken connection with his teammates, always acutely aware of his teammates’ positions on the court. That is exactly what soccer players rely on to hit their teammates with the crossing pass across the field while they are on a full sprint, resting the ball at their rapidly moving feet. The skills Nash developed with soccer must have translated to basketball (or the opposite, I’m not 100% sure which game he started with). He has a sixth sense of the court, the same displayed by Magic Johnson.

Maybe I’m just blinded by bias and Nash’s decision to lace it up and rub elbows with the commoners of China was a foolish enterprise that could have ended disastrously. But it didn’t, so to me, it wasn’t. For me, it was an expression of everything that is good about Nash’s game.

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