Passion. Sacrifice. And a willingness to continue to learn.
Aren't those words a perfect description of what constitutes greatness?
Therefore, would you really be surprised to know that those were the words Steve Nash chose when describing what longevity and success in the NBA comes down to?
I think Nash knows a thing or two about longevity of success.
Even after just turning 38 years old (Happy birthday Steve!), Nash is without a doubt still one of the best point guards in the league. He currently leads the league in assists at 10 a game and is shooting 55% from the field!
Of course, when you've been great for over a decade, it starts to add up.
Last Wednesday in New Orleans, Nash became the all time leader in assists for the Phoenix Suns. By chance, I was lucky enough to be at the game to witness it. Nash's greatness was on full display, as he finished with 30 points on 13-16 shooting with 10 assists (1 turnover).
This performance really highlighted another aspect to Nash's game.
Beyond being one of the best point guards of all time (he is currently 6th all-time in career assists), Nash is also one of the best shooters of all time. How's this for a stat:
Steve Nash is the only player in NBA history to shoot at least 90% from the line, 50% from the field, and 40% from three for an entire season more than 2 times in his career. He has done it 4 times, and is on pace to make it 5 after this season (Larry Bird is the only other player to do it more than once).
All of these accomplishments make Steve Nash an ideal player to try to emulate for students of the game - of all ages. When I was training to tryout for professional teams overseas, I tried to incorporate as much of Steve Nash's game into my workout routines as possible. As a high school coach, I can't tell you how many of his moves I use as intructional drills in practice.
I was fortunate enough to finally see a bit of his routine in person and get some footage.
Take a look:
Normally I would try to find something mechanistic to analyze.
But this time I won't because the real treat for me came after the game, when I got a chance to go into the Phoenix Suns locker room. There sitting in the back of the room was Nash on a training table with a bag of ice wrapped around his ankle.
Being a former player and currently a coach - I jumped at the chance to ask Nash some questions. Namely, what he attributes his longevity to, how he evaluates coming off the screen and roll, how he determines when to shoot or pass, and what his practice routine for shooting is. Nash's whole interview session with other reporters is posted below. But to hear what was essentially a one-on-one interview between Dr. JRS and Steve Nash - skip to around the 5:40 mark. Take a listen:
You'll notice there were some moments of levity in there - including Dan Majerle joking in the background that I was asking Steve these questions "because he's white," to which I responded: "I'm gonna ask Derrick Rose these same questions" (which I did, but that's another story). But in all seriousness, let me just say that for me, asking Steve Nash about the screen and roll and how he assesses what the defense gives him would be equivalent to asking Picasso to discuss his methodology for painting. How invaluable are these words and how amazing was it that he answered so elaborately?
I think any aspiring point guard, should soak up the knowledge.
What were the important points?
1) Always put pressure on the defense
2) Try to get the best "real estate" possible
3) Keep your dribble alive
4) Be prepared to make the defense pay - shooting when they drop off, passing when they step up.
There is such a profoundness in simplicity.
And really, all this comes off of mastering a simple play: the screen and roll.
That night, I sat there during the game and just watched Nash get into the lane at will to pick apart the defense. Coming off that screen he always had options to make a play that put the team in a position to be successful. The key, as Nash said so himself, is being prepared to make a play.
So how do you prepare yourself to make the correct play?
Well to start, may I suggest passion, sacrifice, and a willingness to continue to learn. Then incorporate these elements into your training routine. From a technical standpoint - Nash said he sticks to his routine of making 100-150 shots a day. You can actually see a workout of his online.
But there are a couple of points brought up here beyond technique that are fascinating.
How about the notion of sticking with a routine, almost to a fault?
There was always something about the concept of staying true to something - no matter what - that appealed to me. Of being passionate enough about something, to be willing to sacrifice time and even health to see it through. To remain loyal to your ambitions and goals, even as you progress in age, and continue to put in the work despite all the inevitable distractions that come your way.
Greatness is a long term project.
Think about how much focus it takes.
If there was one thing that became apparent from watching and listening to Steve Nash, it was the unbelievable amount of focus he possesses. And make no mistake, that in itself is a skill.
Because of all the media and popularity associated with the NBA, many people might think that success is a social thing. Actually it's very solitude oriented. It demands diligence, perseverance, and belief - mostly when no one is looking. Or perhaps I should say, in spite of who's looking and asking questions (like me).
These sorts of things probably came in handy when Nash wasn't recruited out of high school. They also probably came in handy when he hardly played his first three years in the NBA.
But almost paradoxically, how about the notion of sticking to your routine and evolving it at the same time? Notice how he mentions having a routine for this stage of his career. And about learning more - specifically about body motion and injury prevention - to stay ahead of the game? This is priceless. Here you have Steve Nash, with all his success and accomplishments, still having the humility and desire to learn more in all aspects of the game. It's a continual process of adjusting and fine tuning yourself. Of constant self assessment while also taking in your surroundings and watching others to add new layers to your craft. Understanding this is essential in order to adapt to changes in your game, body, and competition. Ultimately, this process is essential for survival and prosperity as a professional.
Many of these concepts were highlighted by Nash in his Nike "Training Day"commercial. The best part about Nash is that he is humble enough to incorporate elements from diverse sources and people, even to improve the most minutia aspects of his game. I mean, the dude plays pick up ball in chinatown and soccer in Chelsea!
Of course, all of these things - dedication, passion, sacrifice, humility, willingness to learn - are what makes Steve Nash a special player and person. But ironically, by exuding these characteristics for self-improvement, it enables Nash's greatest attribute - his ability to serve as a facilitator and make everyone else around him better. Think about it. How can all of his qualities not rub off on his teammates or even those just watching him play (like me)? By being the best he can be, he can change those around him.
It truly is a special quality and skill.
I can go on and on for hours. But let me finish.
Steve Nash is without a doubt one of the best point guards of all time.
He is after all a once in a generation player.
But it's not by accident.
Think about all his attributes that enable him to maximize his ability, skills, and potential.
Then think about how his passion, sacrifice, and humility positively transforms everyone around him.
It then becomes clear that Steve Nash is a once in a generation person.