Now that he's firmly ensconced in the Hollywood scene, new Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash made his first visit to "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on Tuesday night, chatting with the relentless clock-punching joke machine about why he wears No. 10 instead of his customary No. 13 (Jay's not so up on the Staples Center's rafters) among other topics, including whether it was difficult to make the move from the Phoenix Suns, his longtime employer, to join Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in L.A.
This, of course, allowed Leno to open the door to how difficult it was for Suns fans, for immediate goof-payoff purposes. After showing the now famous clip of a 4-year-old Suns fan upset after learning that Nash had gone to L.A. — a video that led Nash to send a pair of signed game sneakers to the young girl, because he's a good egg, and fellow "Tonight Show" guest Justin Timberlake to wonder why the girl's parents would post a video of their daughter crying on YouTube, because he's a sharp cookie — Leno asked Nash if he's ever before felt the scorn of his own supporters.
"Have you ever been booed by home fans?" Leno asked.
"I have, actually, once," Nash said. "When I was in Dallas, my third year in the league. I got traded from Phoenix to Dallas, I was playing with a little bit of a back injury and I'd just signed this big contract, and I think the people in Dallas were wondering why I'd just signed this big contract — you know, I hadn't come into my own yet.
"There was this one game where we were playing the Rockets, and they had Charles Barkley, and it was sold out," Nash continued. "And at one point, I started to get booed every time I touched the ball. At home. And I'm the point guard, so I have the ball ... on a number of occasions, if you haven't watched basketball. It was one of those moments where you're like, 'I can't believe this is happening to me.'"
Given how consistently successful, brilliant and just about universally beloved Nash has been for the past dozen years, it's weird to think of him getting jeered in his own building. But Nash did indeed experience some rough sledding after coming to the Mavs in a deal that netted Phoenix the likes of Pat Garrity, Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells and a first-round draft pick (that, thankfully for the Suns, would turn into longtime star Shawn Marion) and immediately receiving a new six-year, $33 million contract.
He shot a career-low 36.3 percent from the field that season, averaging just under nine points and just over six assists per 36 minutes of floor time and frequently giving way to the immortal Robert Pack in big moments. I'm not sure which of the Mavs' two home meetings against the Rockets during that lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign was the one in which Nash heard the boos, but given his performances — two points on 1-of-6 shooting in just 11 minutes in a 10-point loss on Feb. 11, 1999, followed by three points on 1-of-10 shooting in 29 minutes in another 10-point loss on March 24 — either one would work. (The latter one probably makes more sense, though.)
Luckily, Nash had a family member to help him get through that difficult night ... although perhaps not in quite as supportive a way as he might have hoped.
"My younger brother played professional soccer in England — he'd never seen me play basketball in the NBA," Nash said. "He actually was on a break, flew to Dallas and came to [this] game. I'm sitting there thinking, 'This is awful, oh my God, the whole place is booing me.' I look up at my brother, first time ever seeing me play, and he's dying laughing. He's bent over, like, basically pointing at me.
"It kind of, fortuitously, put everything into perspective."
Nash, of course, would eventually get things figured out in Big D, teaming with Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley to turn the Mavericks into perennial contenders, fashioning himself into one of the league's best point guards and developing the versatile offensive skill-set that would make him a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player with the Suns. (Fat lot of good those MVPs did Dallas fans, though.)
Now, the scientists among you might think that presents a pretty compelling case for mercilessly booing your struggling players so that they eventually become great. As a New York Knicks fan, though, let me tell you that this is not a foolproof strategy. (Though we would definitely like to see Leno's studio audience try it out on him one of these days.) Maybe it only works on Canadian players? We'll need to have fans of the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers start hating hardcore on Joel Anthony, Cory Joseph, Jamaal Magloire and Tristan Thompson this season, then track the number of MVPs they win in future seasons to get a truly scientific measurement.
Just do me a favor, though, Oklahoma City Thunder fans: If Andy Rautins somehow actually makes the squad, don't boo him. Just be nice. He's just so li'l and adorable and intermittently good at Twitter. Thanks in advance.