Basketball Hall of Fame beckons for Steve Nash

This Islander had game and now he’s headed to the Hall of Fame.

Steve Nash of Victoria will become only the second Canadian player, and first raised in Canada, to enter the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported Thursday that the basketball Hall’s Class of 2018 will include Nash and fellow former NBA stars Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. The official announcement is expected Saturday during the NCAA Final Four championship. The induction ceremony will be in September in Springfield.

The late Bob Houbregs, inducted into the basketball Hall in 1987, was born in Vancouver but was raised in Washington state. Nash was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised in Victoria as a skilled young athlete who excelled in everything from lacrosse and hockey to soccer, baseball and rugby.

“It’s another milestone achieved for Steve,” said Ken Shields, the former national team and University of Victoria basketball coach, who was one of Nash’s early mentors.

“If you had said in junior high [Arbutus] or even high school [St. Michaels University School] that he was headed to the Basketball Hall of Fame, people would have shook their heads. But Steve went on to rise to the highest level at every level he played. And when he was named NBA most valuable player twice, he was destined for the hall of fame.”

Nash was inspired by Shields’ UVic national championship dynasty of the 1980s. Although he went on to star at Santa Clara University in the NCAA, UVic awarded Nash an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2009. That was quite a recognition for a mischievous, but driven, kid who would jimmy the locks and sneak into McKinnon Gym after-hours to shoot around. From those larcenous late-night hoops capers would emerge an eight-time NBA all-star, the 2004-05 and 2005-06 NBA MVP, the greatest free-throw percentage shooter ever in the NBA, and the third-leading assist-getter in NBA history with 10,335.

Nash revolutionized a sport and made passing cool. It isn’t so much the stats and numbers Nash accumulated for himself, but how his play elevated his teammates to greater heights. For that, and his progressive views off the court, Nash was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2006 by Time magazine.

“I wasn’t ever a sure thing,” said Nash, upon his retirement from basketball in 2015, at age 41.

“The key ingredient was hard work. It’s a great source of pride for me that my story is something kids can relate to and learn from and that it set an example. Not only [about] how anything is possible, but [that] this is one way to approach the game. It feels incredible to leave that behind as my story.”

Perhaps Nash’s greatest legacy is that he changed perception of Canada as solely a hockey-playing nation. The recent number of Canadians selected highly in the draft and now starring in the NBA is a testament to that.

“It’s incredibly flattering, and I’m humbled, every time someone says I’ve had an impact on the game or Canadians playing the game,” said Nash, during his retirement news conference in 2015.

In a memorable decade internationally, Nash became known as Captain Canada, in leading the national team to the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics and a 5-2 record before a heart-breaking quarter-final loss to France. Nash and Canada failed to qualify for the 2004 Athens Summer Games, but Nash was still named MVP of the 2004 Americas regional Olympic qualifying tournament. He is now general manager of the Canadian national team.

Nash’s legacy can be felt on Quadra Street, where the outdoor basketball courts he donated in Central Park are usually filled day to evening with ballers playing pickup hoops.

Nash was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame last year with the Class of 2017. He enters the Basketball Hall of Fame with the Class of 2018 in just his first year of eligibility. It is fitting he enters it with Kidd because Nash began his career as the backup to 10-time NBA all-star Kidd in Phoenix before both moved on to careers that also included long stints in Dallas. Nash, of course, would return to Phoenix where he had his greatest years with a frenetically paced Suns team.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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