Steve Nash, SI’s Chris Ballard, endorse my expansive view of athleticism
Appropo my 2001 essay on athleticism in the April 18 post, which elicited a bunch of comments courtesy of a link by ESPN NBA blogger Henry Abbott, here is Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard, along with Steve Nash, discussing Nash the athlete:
Which brings up the biggest misconception about Nash: that he is an overachieving nonathlete who has made good mostly on smarts and hustle. But to suggest that Nash isn't a good athlete is to define athlete in the narrowest fashion. In many ways Nash is one of the best athletes in the NBA. He probably could have played professional soccer (his brother, Martin, does), and he was an excellent youth hockey player. "He wins at pretty much everything he does," says Whitley, who lists arm wrestling and beer chugging as the only two events in which he can take Nash. "He won't pick up a golf club for nine months, and then he'll shoot in the low 80s. His hand-eye coordination is amazing."
To Nash, the rap on him is a matter of semantics. "In our business people always equate athleticism with explosiveness, not with coordination, agility, footwork or creativity," he says. "I know I could learn to do anything, basically. I've always been able to pick things up athletically, even though I might not be dunking the ball." Even that last statement is not entirely true. At a practice two months ago Nash surprised teammates by dunking twice, once with his left hand off his right foot and once off two feet on an alley-oop from Raja Bell. Neither dunk, Nash takes pains to point out, was what one would call thunderous. "But," he says, "just barely still counts."
Back in 2003, long before Nash earned his first MVP, I wrote about his underrated athleticism — and the woeful lack of athleticism of some of his Mav teammates — for Inside Hoops and Mike Fisher's DallasBasketball website. Here’s a sample:
NATURAL NASH: How Steve Nash Ranks as an NBA Athlete
By Dennis Hans
April 29, 2003
As the Dallas Mavericks trounced the Minnesota Timberwolves on ABC March 30, Bill Walton observed that Mavs point guard Steve Nash has “as little physical ability as any player in the NBA.”
Wake up and smell the incense, Bill. Nash is fast, quick, elusive and super-coordinated. He’s got great hands and a soft touch. He’s one of the top penetrators in the game, and even though he’s a righthander he can drive and finish with his left hand as well as or better than any natural lefty.
Like everyone else playing point guard in the NBA, Nash has labored long and hard to master the many skills his demanding position requires. But so did tens of thousands of college playmakers who never reached the NBA, let alone started, let alone earned a spot in the All-Star Game. Many of those NBA wannabees had the the requisite smarts and dedication, but they lacked that other indispensable quality possessed by Nash and every other standout NBA playmaker: oodles of talent.
Like most point guards, Nash is considerably shorter and lighter than the average NBA player. Perhaps that explains Walton’s confusion: The big redhead appears to believe that tallness and poundage — both of which he has in abundance — are “abilities.”
Sorry, Bill. Although your 84 inches and 250 pounds place you in select company, those measurements tell us nothing about your past abilities (in Walton-speak, “the impeccable footwork, the pinpoint passing, the Russell-esque timing as he swats shot after shot”) or present liabilities (“the bonehead proclamations, the nonstop mouth, the annoying habit of expressing everything in groups of three”). If height and weight were “abilities,” Chuck Nevitt and Felton Spencer would be NBA legends.
Walton’s confusion on this point explains his failure to notice that most of the players in the Target Center March 30 had considerably less “physical ability” than Nash. If we judged the players on how well they moved and how effectively they performed a variety of skills with and without the ball, those with the most ability were named Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Nick Van Exel and Troy Hudson. The least able were named Evan Eschmeyer, Reggie Slater and Marc Jackson. No one in the latter group remotely resembled anyone in the former. . . .