Canada's Nash named NBA MVP
Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash made history on Sunday, becoming the first Canadian to win the NBA's most valuable player award.
The Victoria native edged the Miami Heat's Shaquille O'Neal by 34 votes in the fourth closest margin of victory in 24 years.
Nash had 65 first-place votes to O'Neal's 58.
In true selfless fashion, he asked his Suns teammates to join him on the podium to share the accolades. He embraced each player as they stepped on the stage.
Giving the honour to Nash represents a major change in philosophy among MVP voters, a recognition of unselfish play more than individual accomplishments.
"I definitely won this award because of my role on the team," said Nash before the official announcement. "I didn't win this because I overpower people or I'm dominating people with physical ability, whether it's jumping ability or strength or height."
He's the only fourth point guard to win the award after Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy.
Nash didn't come close to leading the league in scoring, but he received most of the credit for turning the Suns around this season.
With the 31-year-old guard at the helm, the Suns played an up-tempo style and blew opponents away with their offence on their way to a best record in the league.
The Suns averaged 110 points per game, the most in the league in the past decade, and Nash led the league with 11.5 assists per contest.
"It's really an unbelievable honour for him," coach Mike D'Antoni said, "and the team should take a lot of pride in that."
"I think it's more like a team award," said Suns forward Amare Stoudemire, whose scoring average improved by 5 Â½ points to 26 points per game thanks to Nash this season.
"But Steve is the motor. He has the ball in his hands 80 per cent of the time, and a guy like Steve, he gets everyone involved."
There's a general consensus that Nash is the most improbable, non-traditional winner in the 50-year history of the award.
Even Nash can't believe someone from his background could become the NBA's MVP.
U.S. college recruiters weren't interested in him when he was leading his high school in Victoria to the provincial championship.
"I don't really know what to make of it," he said. "I had one scholarship offer, and I didn't have any NBA players in my neighbourhood. I don't even think I dreamed about this award."
After spending four years at Santa Clara University, Nash became the highest Canadian selection in the NBA draft when he was chosen 15th overall by the Suns in 1996.
And he certainly didn't show the makings of a future all-star at the start of his professional career. He received very little playing time in his first two years in Phoenix. When he was traded to Dallas two years later, he struggled with injuries and played poorly.
Nash finally broke out in 2001 and helped lead the Mavericks to unprecedented success over the next four seasons before signing a contract with the Suns last summer.
He said the only thing that's keeping him focused right now is the Suns are still in the playoffs. They are scheduled to play Nash's old team, Dallas, in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday.
It does fill him with a sense of national pride, however.
"There's no better feeling really than to make your whole country proud," he said. "It's an incredible amount of positive energy coming my way."