The oft-derided notion that Steve Nash edged Shaquille O'Neal for the NBA's MVP award because of politics is not as bankrupt as it sounds.
Nash might have indeed earned some sympathy because of politics -- not racial politics as Miami Herald columnist Dan LeBatard provocatively suggested, but for the anti-war stance of the Phoenix Suns point guard. Nash earned his bona fides as an early critic of the Iraq war. Even when the New York Times was being breathlessly credulous in its coverage -- before the newspaper's "oops, our bad" front-page apology -- Nash came to the 2003 NBA All-Star game in a T-shirt that read: "No War -- Shoot for Peace." His refusal to shy away from the pulpit that comes with being a public figure and his embrace of an unpopular stance at a time when this country was in virtual lockstep with the Bush administration showed guts, if not prescience.
Two seasons later, when Nash was turning a dysfunctional 29-win team into arguably the best, and indisputably the most eye-catching club in the NBA regular season, maybe an embarrassed MVP voter -- you know, those soft-hearted and soft-headed media liberals -- might have been swayed to choose Nash, his 11.5 assists per game and his galvanizing effect on the Suns, over O'Neal, who averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds for a team on which Dwyane Wade might have been the keystone player. In any case, it's a theory. Talk among yourselves. Rush Limbaugh, no doubt, will be tickled pink to discuss it.
Leaving those tangled arguments aside -- that fractious debate qualifies as a quagmire, no? -- Nash, a deserving MVP on hoop merits alone, casually exemplifies the qualities associated with sportsmanship. When he was awarded the MVP trophy, he invited all the Suns to come to the podium to accept it with him. Although he is from Victoria, B.C., he picked up sponsorship this summer of the charity basketball game in Toronto that had been founded by Vince Carter, whom the Raptors traded to New Jersey. Nash always has been a hero in his home country.
At the 2000 Olympics, playing on a team that included a few players who wouldn't have looked out of place at your local Y, he carried Canada to the brink of the medal round with a stunning display of virtuosity. He kept dishing out assists in Sydney, including $3,000 out of his pocket to his teammates so the less well-heeled among them would not feel out of place.
Nash plays the game of life right.
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