PHOENIX — After all those glorious years piloting the Phoenix Suns‘ revolutionary Seven Seconds Or Less machine, Steve Nash was entitled to go long for once.
Who would dare protest on the night Nash was inducted into the Suns’ famed Ring of Honor?
Answer: Not a soul. The sellout crowd of 18,055, as noticeably loud as it’s been since Phoenix’s beloved quarterback last played a game here back on April 25, 2012, just laughed along as he suddenly became a Nash Rambler, openly struggling to talk his way through the emotion of the moment.
“I’ve got to admit a couple things,” Nash announced to the audience, not long after the club’s timeless broadcast voice, Al McCoy, introduced him as “the heart and soul of what Suns basketball is all about.”
“I didn’t prepare a speech,” Nash revealed, “and they gave me a lot of drinks in the last couple hours.”
Yet what the ensuing delivery lacked in terms of Nash’s usual precision couldn’t detract from obvious joy he oozed in becoming the 14th official member of franchise royalty.
Along with his parents, siblings and three children, Nash was surrounded at midcourt by Suns legends. You name it, they were there: Charles Barkley, Walter Davis, Dan Majerle, Tom Chambers, even the regal Connie Hawkins.
It would then be Jerry Colangelo, Mike D’Antoni and McCoy, in particular, called upon for turns at the microphone to expound to the locals about just how groundbreaking No. 13 could be at his back-to-back Most Valuable Player peak.
The Nash-and-D’Antoni Suns teams, in McCoy’s words, “changed the way the game of basketball is played.”
“And thank goodness for that,” McCoy said.
Colangelo would soon take it up a notch, making sure everyone in attendance hadn’t forgotten he now serves as chairman of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, and declaring to the game’s all-time No. 3 assist man: “I want to say this to you without reservation … you will be a first-ballot electee.”
Such a momentous day began for Nash, somewhat improbably, at the home of Suns owner Robert Sarver, which actually doesn’t sound all that unusual until you hear what they were doing.
On the impeccably manicured grass at Sarver’s house in the desert, Nash and a handful of buddies in town for the festivities played pickup soccer in bare feet … with Sarver himself, 54, wearing shoes but, yes, joining in.
Sarver, according to some well-placed sources, even threatened to score an audacious goal, striking the post with a long-range, straight-on toe punch straight out of the 1950s NFL.
The scene would eventually shift to a pregame reception at a fashionably appointed warehouse behind what they now call Talking Stick Resort Arena, where hundreds of family members and friends from the basketball world congregated for two hours to relive the glory days that made Nash the only player in league history shorter than 6-foot-6 with multiple MVP trophies.
It was a This Is Your Life Crowd pouring those drinks in. You had scores of Nash’s childhood classmates from British Columbia scattered throughout the room, along with Nash’s high school coach Ian Hyde-Lay. Rowan Barrett, Peter Guarasci and a clutch of former Canadian Olympic teammates held court in their own corner, as did an eight-strong contingent of former Santa Clara teammates.
Commandeering a lot of attention, naturally, were Nash’s former All-Star sidekicks with the Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley. With his team enjoying a two-day break in Los Angeles before Sunday’s Staples Center date with the Lakers, Mavs owner Mark Cuban told Nowitzki, Finley, Nowitzki’s lifelong shooting coach Holger Geschwindner and fiery equipment manager Al Whitley — one of those lifelong Nash pals from B.C. — to take his private plane to Phoenix for the night to honor their dear friend.
“No way we were going to miss this,” Nowitzki said.
In the background, highlights from both of Nash’s Suns stints played on an endless loop for his guests on video screens throughout the hall, with both of those MVP trophies from 2005 and 2006 displayed side-by-side on a mantel.
“We took [those years] for granted,” D’Antoni said, “how easy Steve made it for all of us.”
In a larger address to the invite-only reception, Sarver grabbed a microphone to toast his old point guard and said: “Looking at all these videos reminds me how fricking good you were.”
The reminders were everywhere on this night.
All the way down to the specially designed Stance socks on the feet of the current Suns, adorned with Two Time’s face, that Phoenix players wore in their 110-92 trouncing of Portland.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to try to actually take something in in my life,” Nash told a gathering of reporters before the ceremony. ”I downplay everything and I deflect. I have a hard time really kind of accepting, in some ways, my successes.
“I think I worked really hard. I should try to enjoy tonight and enjoy what we did [as a team]. And it’s not easy for me. I really struggle with kind of being comfortable [with] being applauded in a way.
“So having said that, it’s been incredible what the organization has done for me. Obviously over the years, of course, but they’ve really taken care of me and my family to come back and do this. They’ve gone way above and beyond, so I’m really, really grateful and proud.”