Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Sunshine amid the long days of a damp, gray May


If you live anywhere in New England, I don't have to tell you this has been one dismal month -- cold, rainy and dark. I usually consider May to be my favorite month of the year. It's when the flowers bloom, green bursts everywhere and the songbirds return. This year a little worm is chopping up the leaves of our big front-yard maple. The wind turns my umbrella inside out. It's just plain dismal, day after day.

Given a global and national climate nearly as dark, I've been looking for inspiration, something to get me moving each day, to keep me from pulling the covers over my head and staying in bed.

I've found it in the National Basketball Association playoffs in a guy named Steve Nash.

Nash is an unassuming Canadian who plays basketball fall through spring and works for charity year round. He isn't any basketball player. He's a great basketball player. He was the Most Valuable Player of the NBA this year. But unlike most other professional athletes today, he doesn't push and shove or boast or thrust out his chest. He doesn't scowl or strut for the cameras. Instead, on camera, he's the guy who can be seen patting a teammate on the back after he's made a stupid play or turned the ball over. He runs like the wind but he's also a vision of calm on the court.

Nash set a remarkable record last night. He became the first player in NBA history -- surpassing the likes of Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson -- to score more than 25 points and dish off more than 10 assists in four consecutive playoff basketball games. But it's not Nash's statistics that interest me. It's the way he plays. He never, as announcers note, "picks up his dribble." So Nash, who is probably 6-foot-3 or so but looks at most 5-foot-10 amid all the tall trees around him, races into a crowd under the basket, somehow comes out the other side with three guys chasing him and then spots a teammate cutting to the basket who suddenly finds the ball in his hands three feet from the rim. It's a thing of beauty.

Or there's Nash flitting within inches of a 7-footer and then suddenly stopping, boucing backwards and arching a high shot over the defender's outstretched arms as he falls to the ground. Swish.

Steve Nash is the quintessential team player and teammate. After he joined the Phoenix Suns this year, the team won more than twice as many games as the year before. Twice as many. Amazing. When he is on the bench his team stalls in confusion. And so he sits little.

It looks as though the wonderful run of Steve Nash and his Phoenix Suns will end soon. They're down 2-0 to the deeper and more physical San Antonio Spurs in the Western Division Finals and now the series moves to San Antonio. It's a shame. Nash's young backcourt mate suffered a disabling injury to his eye at the start of the second round of this four-round playoffs. The Phoenix bench is too "thin" to take up the slack.

But whatever happens to Steve Nash and his Phoenix Suns in the next couple of games, I salute him. He's rekindled my joy in professional basketball as has no player in many years. Not since Bernard King averaged about 40 points for the New York Knicks some 20 years ago have I been so captivated by one player's performance. And King had an edge; I'm a Knicks fan.

Steve Nash plays basketball with joy, grace, speed and anything but a sense of self-importance. He's once again making the sport fun to watch. Deep into the Spring that wasn't. Do you think the Sun will come back out for summer?


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