Nash is the genuine point guard (cont.)
The NBA has opened itself to the world over the 12 years since Nash came into the league. He was a bit of an anomaly then -- a South African-born Canadian who won over people as a basketball playmaker at Santa Clara but whose heart had a place for soccer that basketball would never touch. Now, foreign players are salted throughout the draft every year, and they festoon the All-Star Game rosters.
"It was fairly common when I was a rookie, but now it's 10-fold," Nash said. "It's improved the culture of the NBA, and it's improved the game. It's important not to be homogenous. It's important to grow and to expand."
The Renaissance man is having an altogether renaissance year. He helped light the Olympic torch in his native British Columbia, jetting back and forth on the sly from All-Star Weekend in Dallas to do it, and he's launched his own film production company back home as well. It is of a piece with his whole life. Nash always has seen beyond the court.
His politics are left of center -- at least for an athlete playing an American sport. For a Canadian, they're pretty much mainstream. "I still don't understand the new health-care system here," joked Nash, who grew up under the single-payer system to which Canadians are so devoted that they named its creator, Tommy Douglas, the Greatest Canadian of All Time. (He's also Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather.) Back in 2003, when hardly anyone else in his profession did, and when nobody else in Dallas did, Nash, then playing for the Mavericks, spoke out against the rush to war. This did not make him popular.
"I got called a Commie," he chuckles now. "It wasn't that I so much didn't like the three weeks afterward. It was the stupidity of the inquisition. I was careful in what I said, to a point and to a purpose. I would hardly venture to say I thoroughly read political history at all. Obviously, I'm left-leaning for certain, and I'm all for capitalism. But, at the same time, I feel that education and health care are human rights."
He has been a witness, then, with the shrewd eye of an outsider, to the NBA's transformation into an engine of what Joseph Nye calls "soft power" -- the great, galumphing presence of American popular culture in the rest of the world. "Popular entertainment," writes Nye in Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, his seminal 2004 work, "often contains subliminal images and messages about individualism, consumer choice and other values that have important political effects." Nye specifically mentions that "even popular sports can play a role in communicating values."
But Nash also has a sense of soft power's inherent trap. So many of its globalized manifestations are driven by corporate imperatives that it homogenizes everything it influences. The authentic is no longer antonymic to the artificial -- not with Camden Yards and throwback jerseys stitched by children in China. When "authentic" is just another brand, the only antidote remaining to the artificial is the genuine, which must always be defined as a million different individual personal choices.
"You lose track of what's going on outside," said Nash, as the lunchtime bid'ness gabble reaches a kind of climax around him. "When I said bubble, I meant more from an introspective level. Sometimes you need a moment to realize that you are a person, not a robot. You need a moment to remind yourself to live your life."
Celebrity," Nash insists, "is boring. On the one hand, you can't say it doesn't give you things. On the other hand, it's a pain in the ass and it is to be wary of." Which is not to say that celebrity can't ever be an efficient tool, like a crowbar.
For example, this year, Nash and his cousin, filmmaker Ezra Holland, launched Meathawk productions in Victoria, B.C. Over the past several years Nash has developed a serious jones for this sort of thing, directing and producing several popular YouTube films, including a spoof of the movie Step Brothers, starring himself and Baron Davis, in which Nash and Davis ride a tandem bicycle, and Nash, bedecked in red suspenders, a bilious Hawaiian shirt and plaid shorts, attempts some sort of knee-knocking dance that appears to be an ungodly hybrid midway on the Caucasoid scale between the Charleston and the kazatzky.
(He's also responsible for some hilarious videos filmed on the Suns' charter flights, the butt of which seems always to be Robin Lopez, the young center with the frazzled hair and a look of perpetual astonishment. At least one of these videos is Not Safe for Our Younger Viewers.)
Working with Holland, Nash developed the idea of doing a documentary on Terry Fox, the cancer patient and amputee whose attempt to run across Canada galvanized the country in the summer of 1980. At about the same time, ESPN contacted Nash to ask that he appear at the ESPYs, the network's annual attempt to demonstrate that the primary difference between athletes and actors is that Stuart Scott is not Barbara Walters. Nash had been asked to appear before. He had even been nominated. He had never attended. He always had better things to do in the summer.
"Walking a red carpet? That's not really my cup of tea," he said. "I got my soccer games, and my kids, and my friends in New York City. You walk outside in New York, and the whole world's there." (Nash, his Paraguayan-born wife, Alejandra, and their twin 5-year-old daughters spend every summer in the city, where Steve and Alejandra met.)
Nevertheless, Nash saw the opportunity to leverage his celebrity. He agreed to come to the ESPYs if he would be allowed to pitch his Fox documentary to the producers of ESPN's well-regarded "30 for 30" series. It will air on the network this fall.
"I loved movies as a kid," he said, "but my parents weren't into it, and I was playing tons of sports. In college I started to go more often, with my eyes and ears open. My wife had a big influence on me because her father was extremely passionate about it. I learned a lot more when I was dating." He's already planning his next project -- a documentary about Pelé that may take him to South Africa this summer for the World Cup. His faces lights up when he talks about soccer. "You know," he said, "the dream never dies."