“At one point, he came to me during a timeout and said he tweaked it, said his hamstring’s on fire,” Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni recalled his interaction with Steve Nash during Tuesday night’s loss to the Houston Rockets. “I go, ‘well, you want out?’ And he says, ‘If I go out, I may never go back in.’”
Nash was chasing history, and he required five assists on Tuesday night to pass Mark Jackson and take sole possession of third place on the NBA’s all-time assists list.
“So I go, ‘Ok, it’s either the record or we’ll carry you off the floor,’” D’Antoni continued in his postgame press conference.
No stretcher was necessary, as Nash got five assists in 13 first-half minutes. He walked off the court with a smile and received a thunderous standing ovation.
Of the four players at the top of the assists list, only one was a two-time league Most Valuable Player. Truthfully, Nash probably deserved three MVP awards, but Dirk Nowitzki was gifted the 2007 trophy to break the monotony of picking Nash three years in a row.
“He was in pain,” D’Antoni said with sunken eyes that refused to tear up. “What’s remarkable is how he can run a team even on one leg and keep us in the game.”
Even with 40 years under his belt and playing through a nerve issue that would have ended most athletes’ careers a long time ago, Nash was still able to tab five assists in 13 minutes. To put that in perspective, Lakers starting point guard Kendall Marshall only managed four assists in 19 minutes of play in the same game.
The conditions were fitting. Nash made a career of making his teammates better, and getting five assists without Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol in the lineup served to underline that talent. The Lakers did not have a single player that resembled an all-star. Arguably, the Lakers did not have any players that belonged in a starting lineup of an NBA team.
Still, four decades into his life and playing on one leg, Nash made it look easy.
The other three players on the top of the assists list, John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Mark Jackson, were three of the greatest players of all time. No one can contest their individual greatness, but arguing Nash was the best player of the four was not entirely unfounded.
“It’s incredible,” Nash said after reaching the milestone. “When you look up and down the list, at this end of it, it’s people I grew up emulating.”
Top of the list, Stockton played alongside Karl Malone, a two-time league MVP and second on the all-time scoring list. Not to discount Stockton’s talents, but Malone certainly helped place Stockton at the top of the heap. Of course, Malone likely would not sit second all-time in scoring if Stockton had not been licking stamps for the “Mail Man.”
Kidd, Jackson and Nash all went through stretches where they played with all-time great players, but ultimately, all three passed with flair that did not rely on Hall-of-Fame talent.
Worth pointing out, there was only one league MVP among the top four passers in NBA history, and Nash earned two of those highly coveted trophies.
After the game, Nash sounded doubtful he would be able to return again this season. Whether or not Nash plays another game this season or returns for a final season remains to be seen.
For now, though, one should take a step back and marvel at how a 40-year-old kid from Victoria, Canada still had enough magic dust to steal the spotlight and draw a standing ovation on a night when the Lakers secured the absolute worst record in Los Angeles Lakers history.