Canadian national hero Steve Nash returns to his native country in the twilight of his career, chasing the dreams of a championship that has eluded him for 16 years. Welcomed warmly by his fellow countrymen, he would be the toast of the provinces.
Sunday that’s exactly what will take place at the Air Canada Centre.
However, there’s something wrong with this picture: He was supposed to be a Toronto Raptor. Instead, the point guard returns to his home country in the purple and gold of the Lakers. He’ll still be treated as a conquering hero, but it won’t be quite the same.
During the summer, it seemed like a done deal; Nash taking $36 million for the next three years to try and revive pro basketball in Toronto, then possibly move into the Raptors’ front office. He’s already the General Manager of Canada Basketball, and he probably could have added the title of Raptors GM to his executive resume. But after flirting a bit with the New York Knicks, the free agent agreed to a shocking sign and trade between the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns.
Nash turned down more money from the other teams, saying he wanted to be closer to his three children, who live in Arizona with his ex-wife. He’s also said that he felt playing for the Lakers is his best chance at a title before his career ends.
“I was very close (to signing with the Raptors),” Nash told Canadian media outlet QMI in October. “It appeared they were going to be an option long before free agency started. So I got my head around that and I was comfortable and happy with the opportunity to play in Toronto. But when the opportunity (with the Lakers) became a reality, I couldn’t pass it up.”
With the Lakers at 17-22 and three games out of a playoff spot, he may have miscalculated — at least for this season. But he says he doesn’t regret his decision to move to L.A.
“No, not at all,” he said when asked about it after practice Friday. “This is the place I wanted to be and still do.” Despite choosing the Lakers over the Raptors he’s hoping for a pleasant reception from the fans when the starting lineups are introduced.
“But I’m not sure (how the crowd will react),” he said. “I’ve always gotten an incredible reception there, but since I didn’t sign with them, I don’t know how they’ll react.”
Norm Rumack, longtime talk show host for the Raptors’ flagship radio station — 590 The Fan and internet TV network Nextsportstar.com, says that Nash has nothing to worry about.
“I think most reasonable people understand that he wanted to pursue a championship at this stage of his career,” Rumack said, “and he wanted to be close to his kids. That’s all good.
“People have always appreciated how he carries himself. He’s humble and he’s served his country by playing for the national team over the years. He a two-time MVP and the people are cognizant of that. He’s definitely a favorite of the Canadian people and cherished as a hero because of his accomplishments and because he’s very classy. He conducts himself like a real pro.
“I’m sure he’ll get a great ovation when he’s introduced on Sunday.”
Nash will certainly appreciate the warmth from an opposing crowd, but after the 99-90 loss to Miami Thursday night, he’ll be focused on just one thing — trying to get the Lakers into the playoffs.
“It’s been desperation time for us for a while now,” Nash said of his Lakers, who are five games under .500 as the face the Raptors. “No more moral victories for us — we have to win. We have to win at a rate of two out of every three games now and get back into this thing before its too late.”