makes hoops history, again
It's being called one of the greatest accomplishments
in Canadian sports history. A skinny six-foot-three-inch player from
Victoria capturing the NBA's top individual award - not once, but
Thanks in large part to Steve Nash, the
Suns won a second straight Pacific Division crown in 2005-06.
Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns added his name to the record books this week, becoming only the second point guard in NBA history to win back-to-back MVP awards.
The other point guard to win the honour in consecutive seasons? Some guy named Magic Johnson.
Nash is also the ninth player overall to win the award in two straight seasons.
Of course, making history is nothing new for Nash. Last year, he edged out Shaquille O'Neal to become the first Canadian to ever win the MVP award.
If Nash's accomplishments don't impress you, think of it in these terms - Nash winning the NBA's MVP is like a non-Canadian winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup playoff MVP. It's rare.
Like Wayne Gretzky's everlasting effect on hockey or Mike Weir's win at the Masters in 2003, Nash's play the last two seasons - culminated by the top player honour - has captured the hearts of Canadians.
But Canadian fans have been familiar with Nash's heroics for some time. He regularly gives up his off-season to play for his country while other Canadian NBAers decline.
Thanks largely to Nash's unmatchable energy, grit and desire, Canada catapulted back to the international basketball scene at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, making its first appearance at the Games in 12 years.
Nash led Canada to an impressive 5-2 record and seventh-place finish at the tournament, including upset wins over Australia and world champion Yugoslavia. A trip to the medal round was squashed by a five-point loss to France in the quarter-final.
Nash wore his heart on his sleeve after that loss and that emotion further endeared him to Canadian basketball fans.
At the MVP award ceremony Sunday, in true humble fashion, Nash admitted he didn't expect to win the honour.
"I have to admit, it's a little bit uncomfortable to be singled out amongst all these great players two years in a row. I have to pinch myself," said Nash.
It's been an incredible two years for Nash in Phoenix.
Nash guided the Suns to a franchise record-tying 62 victories last season, winning plaudits and acclaim for his unselfish play and fantastic vision on the court to win his first MVP award.
He followed that up with career highs in scoring (18.8 points per game), rebounding (4.2) and field goal percentage (.512) during the 2005-06 NBA regular season. He also topped the league in free throw percentage (.921), assists (10.5 per game) and finished sixth in three-point percentage at 43.9.
Nash helped the Suns win a second straight Pacific Division crown, a feat that's all the more impressive considering Phoenix lost key forward Amare Stoudemire (knee injury) early in the season and traded away Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson last summer
"A lot is made about me making my teammates better, and I really believe that my teammates make me a lot better, too," said Nash.
"I'm fortunate enough to play with great players and great players. I owe a lot to them, a lot to the organization, and a lot to the city."
Nash's repeat MVP victory immediately drew criticism from fans and journalists who questioned his defensive prowess, and whether he was the product of a top-notch coaching system.
Those claims were quickly dismissed by Canadian national team coach Leo Rautins.
"I don't know if people really realize how good Steve is," said Rautins. "The United States could have put him on their Olympic team in Greece [in 2004], and they would have won a gold medal [instead of bronze]. That's how good he is.
"I think he's one of those once-in-a-lifetime players that doesn't come by very often."
After spending four years at California's Santa Clara University, Nash became the highest Canadian selection ever in the NBA draft when he was chosen 15th overall by the Suns in 1996.
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 five-year, $65-million U.S. contract with the Suns in 2004 as an unrestricted free agent.
Nash made an immediate impact in desert country, raising the Suns' win total to 62 from 29 the previous season - an amazing 33-win improvement.
While honoured by the second MVP award, the down-to-earth Nash said his focus is on the playoffs, where the Suns are preparing to take on the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.
Individual honours are fine, but an NBA championship is what he's really after. And knowing his determination, this could be the year Nash adds that valuable piece of hardware to his trophy cabinet.
Born: Feb. 7, 1974 in Johannesburg, South Africa
15th overall in 1996, by the Phoenix Suns
John Nash (father) played professional soccer; Martin Nash (brother) currently plays professional soccer for the Vancouver Whitecaps and has played for the Canadian national team
By Suns on June 24, 1998, to Dallas Mavericks for Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells, draft rights to Pat Garrity, and a 1st round selection in 1999 (used to pick Shawn Marion)
Other MVP point guards:
Magic Johnson (1986-87, 1988-89, 1989-90), Oscar Robertson (1963-64), Bob Cousy
Other international MVPs:
Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon, Nigeria (1993-04)
Other Suns MVPs:
Charles Barkley (1992-93)
Caused a stir at the 2002 NBA All-Star Game in Philadelphia by wearing an anti-war T-shirt to weekend festivities
Winning the 2005 NBA all-star skills competition and adding a little soccer flare to Suns teammate Amare Stoudemire's jams in the slam dunk contest. In a preliminary-round dunk, Stoudemire bounced the ball off the backboard to Nash, who headed the ball in an alley-oop for his teammate, who did a half-turn in the air and slammed it down for the wildest ovation of the competition.