If this is how Steve Nash's time as a member of the Phoenix Suns ends — and it may be, as the Suns just played their last game of the 2011-12 campaign and the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player will enter free agency this offseason — then at least the Phoenix faithful sent him off appropriately.
The Suns' franchise leader in assists, 3-pointers, offensive rating and offensive win shares deserves every ounce of admiration, appreciation and affection the crowd at the U.S. Airways Center could muster ... and he got it.
As a meaningless 110-106 loss to the depleted San Antonio Spurs wound down on Wednesday night, the crowd stood and chanted ''We want Nash'' over and over.
First it was just a few fans. Then it spread through the whole building.
Finally, coach Alvin Gentry sent the 38-year-old point guard back onto the court for a few plays before Nash left to rousing cheers.
''It was obviously amazing to get that type of reception and support,'' Nash said. ''It's very special because it's not something I asked for or imagined to get that type of spontaneous reaction. It means it's authentic, the relationship that I thought we had.''
With all due respect, if Steve Nash hadn't "imagined [he'd] get that type of spontaneous reaction," he is a crazy person.
For starters, Nash is arguably the greatest player in the history of the Phoenix Suns (if you'd like to cast your lot for '92-'96 Charles Barkley, I will not fight you in a public square) and he has provided as much pure enjoyment for his team's fans as any player for any team has over the past 10 years, not just in sepia-toned memories of postseason runs, but also this year. But fans turn against stars all the time; what assured these ovations for Nash was his unyielding loyalty.
He has stayed true to an organization that has, for all intents and purposes, wasted the last two years of his career by repeatedly shipping out assets to save money, failing to replenish its stores of talent and sending Nash into battle alongside a squadron of role players. Despite knowing that the front office had essentially closed the door on any championship aspirations for Phoenix following the team's 2010 Western Conference finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, he has never demanded a trade, despite the fact that pretty much all NBA fans (and even some announcers) have demanded one for him.
Amid all that, he just played and played and played, raging against the dying of the light with sharp eye, pure stroke and smile. And he did it so well that he nearly made the playoffs with this roster. Fans tend to remember guys like that, and they tend to love them in a way that doesn't altogether make sense to them; I'd be surprised if Steve Nash ever has to buy a shot of wheatgrass in the state of Arizona again.
That what might be Nash's final game as a Sun came in a loss to the Spurs — those damned Spurs — feels a bit like a cosmic joke, as does the fact that Nash's actual presence in the game ended somewhat ignominiously; he came back into the game just after the four-minute mark of the fourth, promptly coughed up the ball to start a fast break the other way, and then exited for good with 3:30 left. (Suns fans also celebrated post-game with a slightly more earthbound and puerile goof.) But all that's OK; Nash seems like the kind of dude who'd get the joke, laugh with it and move on.
Whether he elects to move on to a new team will likely be one of the offseason's top storylines. Nash, 38, has said repeatedly of late that he'd like to play for three more years, and no matter how old he is, a point guard who averages 14 points and 12 assists per 36 minutes, shoots 53 percent from the floor, 39 percent from 3-point land and 89 percent from the free-throw line, and posts a Player Efficiency Rating over 20 (eighth-best at the position, according to ESPN Insider's John Hollinger) will find someone willing to pay him. Everyone used to think it'd be the New York Knicks, but the once-dreamed-of reunion with ex-Suns boss Mike D'Antoni won't happen there. It may well be the Miami Heat, an idea that should send shivers down the spines of 29 other fan bases.
Or, it could be the Suns, staring at just $31.6 million in committed salary on their books for next season and a full-throated arena of reasons to bring back their decade-long spirit animal/meal ticket. In the absence of other major moves to return Phoenix to legitimate title contention, that'd be a bummer for those of us who want to see Nash get a shot at a ring as his daylight fades, but it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that we haven't seen the last of Nash in the desert. If we have, though, at least we have the right kind of final scene; the right sort of taste in our mouth. It ain't wheatgrass, but it'll do.
Is the video above not working for you? Feel free to check out the cheers elsewhere, thanks to TheNBAIndia.