Steve Nash is one of the most decorated basketball players known to the sport. As the recipient of countless awards and a frequent record breaker, there is no doubt Steve has unmatched talent as an athlete. Yet his talent off the court is what’s mind-blowing to me.
Steve retired yesterday. The NBA lost his magic on the court and gained a legend. We, the world, all win as a result of Steve hanging up his sneakers because this class act of a person now has more time on his hands for what’s next. We can bet it won’t be an easy layup.
I was fortunate to work for the Phoenix Suns for three seasons from 2005 – 2008 while Steve played for the team. This was an intense time for the franchise. Jerry Colangelo, a known Godfather of Basketball, left the ownership helm and Coach Mike D’Antoni had just introduced ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ which was a game-changing philosophy that paved our way to the Playoffs. Suns fans were fired up on Planet Orange and Steve Nash led the way.
With a front row seat in the front office, I was able to witness his talent on and off the court. There wasn’t a person in the building who didn’t like Steve. His wisdom, leadership and grace is what earned his reputation as a true class act. It was after I left the Suns and helped Steve a bit on his social media presence that allowed me to get to know him better. He’s a true inspiration.
As I read Steve’s retirement letter yesterday, I realized how much of an impact he is making beyond the sport of basketball. Several excerpts from his letter are included below to demonstrate this point. A few things we can learn from Steve Nash:
Practice Fierce Focus
There are people who are born with natural talent and others who build it along the way through hard work and fierce focus. Yes, Steve has always been a good basketball player but his hard work is what has made him an unmatched basketball player. When you ask his coaches or teammates, he’s always been the hardest working player on the team – committed to doing whatever he could to improve his game. He even built a name as an authority of nutrition with this immaculately clean diet. The man is fiercely focused.
Imagine if we practiced being focused as much as we practiced the tactics of our ‘game’, whatever our chosen ‘game’ might be?
Steve reflects on a time when he was told at a young age that his run at basketball wasn’t going to last:
“So what did I do? Stayed obsessed. Set goals. Worked. Dreamed. Schemed. Pushed myself beyond what was normal or expected. I looked at my hero, Isiah Thomas, and thought to myself, “OK, I’m nowhere near the player he is but if I get better every day for 5 or 10 years, why can’t I be as good as him?”
Make Your Passion Your Best Friend
Imagine if we considered our pursuit to be an incredible musician, writer, entrepreneur or (insert passion here) as our literal best friend. How would that change the lens on how we view practicing, performing and growing/learning?
Steve talks about his relationship with basketball:
“The greatest gift has been to be completely immersed in my passion and striving for something I loved so much — visualizing a ladder, climbing up to my heroes. The obsession became my best friend. I talked to her, cherished her, fought with her and got knocked on my ass by her.
And that is what I’m most thankful for in my career. In my entire life, in some ways. Obviously, I value my kids and my family more than the game, but in some ways having this friend — this ever-present pursuit — has made me who I am, taught me and tested me, and given me a mission that feels irreplaceable. I am so thankful. I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons about myself and about life. And of course I still have so much to learn. Another incredible gift.”
Use Humility and Hunger for Improvement as Fuel
Humility and quiet confidence seems to have paid dividends for Steve. Instead of using his multiple MVP titles or the previous night’s trillion triple-doubles as fuel he seemed to flip the source of motivation and tap into his hunger for improvement as fuel. His moments of self-reflection and coach-ability were visible to those who watched.
Steve reflects on the influence his father had on him growing up:
“He never said, “Wow, three goals!” Instead he said, “Brilliant vision to see your teammate coming in behind the play,” or, “So unselfish to pass when you could’ve shot. That makes me proud.” I know that’s not normal and I’m grateful.
Authenticity Builds Support
Steve played in a few different markets for different teams throughout his career but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like or speak highly about him. Sure, everyone respected his talent but his character is what built the empire of support around him.
Examples of his authenticity along the way can be found all over the interwebs. Like the time he shared this honest video message to fans, addressing the current situation and asking them for a little more support and a little less criticism.
Instead of trying to build support through triumphs, what if we focused on authenticity?
In Steve’s second game with the Lakers, he broke his leg and nothing was the same. Steve reflects:
“Last spring, when I returned to the court, I was given a standing ovation at Staples Center. It was a dark time in my career and that gesture will be one of my best memories.”
Hat tip to Steve for an incredible career in basketball. Jump hi-five to him for being an inspiration to many.