If you are reading this column know that if the title says, “I hate Revisionist History, featuring Steve Nash,” my editor did not allow the title, “F*** Revisionist History, featuring Steve Nash,” to slide. Maybe he should have. Maybe he should not have. Either way, while combing through this article understand that with a burning passion I would chuck as many F-Bombs (and real bombs, if I had any) as possible to destroy what we know as revisionist history. You might be wondering, “What is revisionist history?” Don’t worry, I got you. Even if you think you know what it means, the term can be interpreted in slightly different ways. Courtesy of Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary, here are two definitions of revisionist history.
In historiography, the term historical revisionism identifies the re-interpretation of the historical record. It usually means challenging the orthodox views held by professional scholars about a historical event, or introducing new evidence, or of restating the motivations and decisions of the participant people. (Wikipedia)
When people, with the benefit of years (or generations) of hindsight and typically with ulterior motive, try to rewrite history as it originally occurred. (Urban Dictionary)
Both definitions sound very similar, but while the former sees the term as one re-interpreting past history, the latter (consciously) attempts to rewrite it.
This is all very fun to know, but what does this has to do with retired NBA player, Steve Nash? The answer: everything. Nash’s career, just like the majority of professional sports players, if not all the them, are for better or worse, impacted by revisionist history during the later stages of their careers, or after retirement. It’s understandable, as everyone likes to look back at the past with the context of present day. Sadly, in the case of Steve Nash, this (unfairly) impacts him for the worst.
In the summer of 2004, Nash, 30, was a free agent for the Dallas Mavericks and planned on re-signing with the team. After asking for five years, $50 million, owner Marc Cuban tried to offer four years, $36 million. The Phoenix Suns, who gave up Nash to the Mavs after the 1998 NBA draft, offered Nash five years, $65 Million! Cuban rejected to match, and Nash was back where his NBA career started.
Note: It’s understandable (at the time) that Cuban rejected giving Nash a lot of money. Dirk Nowitzki was younger, and Cuban wanted to build around him. Nash was 30 years old, averaged 16-8 in six seasons while being a world-class defensive liability who had ailing back problems. Of course, as we know, Marc Cuban would later go on to say that failing to re-sign Steve Nash was the worst mistake in his career (and the best for Nash).
We know the rest of the story. The 30 year old point guard would play under offensive gurus Mike D’Antoni (whose seven seconds or less offense revolutionized the NBA to the pace-and-space play of today’s basketball) and Alvin Gentry. Factoring the rule changes made because defense became too good and maximized the skills of guards (no hand checking), and the 30 year old landed in the right place at the right time. In eight seasons during his second stint with the Suns, he’d win back-to-back MVPs, make six of his eight All-Star selections, see multiple conference finals, and average a blistering 17-12 between ages 31-38.
Revisionist History says that Nash “stole” both of his NBA Most Valuable Player awards. It’s commonly accepted outside of Phoenix that the 2005 MVP should have gone to either Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal (ironically they were on different teams together after seven seasons and three-peating as champions from 2000-02). It was also accepted that the 2006 MVP was definitely Kobe Bryant. Let’s look at Nash’s 2005 and 2006 seasons to decide if he should have been in the MVP conversation, and if he should have won any MVP awards.
The 2004 Suns finished with a 29-53 record, good enough for the second-worst record in the west and fourth-worst record in the league (that’s not good at all actually). Head Coach Frank Johnson was fired after 21 games (8-13), and Mike D’Antoni finished the season (21-60).
After acquiring Nash in free agency, D’Antoni made him the maestro of his seven seconds or less offensive playbook. An offense that made for fast pace basketball played by a position-less lineup lead by a creative point guard. With Nash being the only important addition to the team, he lead the Suns to a league best 62-20 record. With averages of 15.5 PPG and 11.5 APG (lead the league in assists) in 75 contests, he was seen as the change Phoenix needed and won the 2005 MVP award.
Some say Shaq, who left the Lakers and made the the Heat a contender, should have gotten the award. Well let’s see. He put up a 23-10-2 and lead the league in field goal percentage (60.1%) in 73 games. The Lakers were a 34 win team in 2005, and the Heat won 59 games, so LA lost 23 games, Miami won 17 more and suddenly you’re looking at a 40 win, conference shaking swing in power.
Notice, that the Lakers went from 57 to 34 wins, while Kobe averaged 28-6-6, with a .433/.339/.816 slash line but missed 16 games. MVPs have to be healthy and carry their teams over .500. He didn’t deserve to be among the top candidates for the 2005 MVP.
Nash, meanwhile, left a Dallas team that won six more games without him. Phoenix won 33 more games, went from the bottom of the lottery to a contender, and was the best offense in the league. Also, while Nash changed the career trajectories of any players who were on the Suns while in a much tougher conference, Shaq was added as the second-best player to a second-tier playoff team. Shaq’s impact on Kobe’s and Wade’s careers were definitely massive for differing reasons, but Nash was the one catalyst of positively influencing players, a franchise, and the future of basketball. He definitely didn’t steal the 2005 MVP.
In 2006, a reinvigorated Kobe Bryant lead the league in scoring with 35.4 PPG, brought the Lakers to the eighth seed, 45 wins, and proved that he was a franchise player without Shaq (though it was obvious that he could be). The Suns won eight less games, but with 54 wins still won the Pacific division to capture the second seed. Nash maintained averages of 18.8 PPG and lead the league with 10.5 APG. Once again, he grabbed the NBA’s MVP award.
The 2006 MVP is worth debating, as it is the first of three years in which Kobe had an MVP window (from 2009 and on we know that LeBron would snatch as many as possible).
Smush Parker, Kwame Brown, and Chris Mihn played the third, fourth, and fifth most minutes on an NBA team. Bryant routinely dropped 35 a game or the Lakers were losing, so no one carried a burden greater than Kobe this season. The best player in the league was lead the worst supporting cast to April and putting on a scoring spectacle as he became the fifth player to have 2,800 points over a season (Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bob McAdoo are the other four.)
So why didn’t he run away with the award. Well, the face of the NBA had been battling a rape charge just 12 months earlier, which probably demoralized some voters from a Kobe pick, and Nash’s Suns still had the third-best record in the league, despite Amar’e Stoudemire playing three games over the campaign. Phoenix’s number one scorer had averaged a career high 26 points the year before. Despite this, Nash put on a passing clinic and was able to get eight players other than himself to average between 9.8 and 21.8 points a game.
Kobe’s 81 points, 62 points, three 50-point games, 21 40-point games, and 29 30-point games were amazing for sure, but while Kobe dragged a sub-par squad from the lottery to a first-round exit against the same Suns team after leading three games to one, Nash managed to keep afloat a team and play-style that couldn’t exist without him. No point guard could have run that Phoenix team with the same efficiency or success given the degree of difficulty. Nash lead the league in assists with 10.5 a game, made the 50/40/90 club, lead the league in free throws, and had an AST/TO ratio of 3:1. The next four guys in APG had an AST/TO ratio ranging from 3 to 3.67, but none of them topped nine assists and either missed 20+ games or played with squads that weren’t offensively oriented. Nash didn’t steal the 2006 MVP and was a deserving candidate. Kobe absolutely deserved to be a candidate as well. I’ll take Nash for raising the collective ceiling of his team, but I’m okay with anyone selecting Kobe in a year where he dragged a terrible squad for 82 games.
Revisionist history has unfairly penalized Nash for peaking as a player in an era that would increase the worth of guards. How many point guards since 2006 could play Nash’s role in Phoenix? Chris Paul? Deron Williams? Stephen Curry?
One more thing to mention about the removal of hand-checking from the game. Nash may have benefited from the rule change, but no one mentions how scoring as a whole boomed in the following two seasons.
In the 2003-04 regular season Tracy McGrady lead the league in scoring with 28 PPG. The next nine averaged between 22-24 points per game. The following year with hand-checking banned, Allen Iverson lead the league in scoring with 30.7 PPG with the next nine averaging 24-28 points. In 2006, Kobe Bryant’s historic 35.4 PPG was the highest among a top-10 that spanned from 25-33 PPG. Also, Kobe, AI, and LeBron (all perimeter players) averaged 30 or more points over the season. The last time three players had 30+ PPG was during the ‘81-’82 season. In 2006, it became the seventh time to ever happen. It hasn’t happened since.
Nash wasn’t the only one to benefit from the major changes that the association made. Revisionist History can be a curse. Let’s remember that Steve Nash was an exhilarating player to behold, and that he was the poster boy for ushering a new era of basketball.