Nash is the genuine point guard (cont.)
It would be a kind of homecoming for him. He was born in Johannesburg, in 1974, to John and Jean Nash. They'd met in a London nightclub. John was a printer, and Jean worked as the executive assistant in a stock brokerage. John was also a gifted soccer player, and when the opportunity came to move to South Africa, where he could work his trade, play his game and get paid for doing both, they jumped at the chance.
You can see Steve in each of them. He has his mother's quick smile, but the broad planes of his face are his father's, and so is the slightly sidewise look at the world. Upon explaining that he finished his apprenticeship in London, John is quick to mention that, because of that, "I can wear a sword in the City of London and I'm allowed to drive sheep over London Bridge." The original London Bridge has, of course, been relocated to Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
"So I was a compositor. I used to set type," John continued. "By the time I finished my apprenticeship, I was obsolete. After 450 years, they decided it was obsolete. Goodbye, Gutenberg."
Once Steve was born, neither John nor Jean wanted to stay in South Africa. They sensed the deadly paradox of apartheid: What appeared to be immutable masked a terrifying fragility. The iron authoritarianism of the system -- pass laws, rigidly and ruthlessly enforced white supremacy -- was unsustainable. "I mean, we didn't like apartheid, and we're not a racist family," explained John. "But, basically, security was an issue for me. The white South Africans were teaching their children that the regime was justified. Then, suddenly, you have a baby and you're responsible."
They moved to Canada -- first, to Regina in Saskatchewan and then to Victoria, where their three children played every game in sight. Steve was a clever center in hockey, deft with a lacrosse stick, and a gifted infielder. Soccer was his first love, but basketball was his great gift. And Canada was never anything but home. "I've never had any question that I'm Canadian," he said. "Canadians have a sense of wonder about the rest of the world anyway, because we all seem to come from different places and backgrounds."
His globalized upbringing and the cosmopolitan view of the world that it developed in him have given Nash a firm sense of who he is and, with it, the freedom to explore all the aspects of who he is. It armored him against the way that celebrity can be isolating. It gave him ways out of the bubble. He was a globalized man before the NBA became a globalized product, and that has made all the difference. It made him free to run around in his bachelor days with Dirk Nowitzki, when they were both young and Mavs together, just as he is free today to bring his family to New York City for the summer, and to play in his soccer games and drink beer with his teammates afterward. It has enabled him to avoid being "authentic" by remaining genuine.
"Sometimes," he said, "it takes a lot of dusting off to say, 'Where am I? What am I doing?' because it's such an all-encompassing pursuit. It's such a marathon, whether it's a season or a career, that you can easily lose track of what's taking place. A little bit of you, I think, disappears every day. You're city to city, and you're in such a routine and it takes so much to get through it that you just kind of get numb to it and, in the process, you lose a certain amount of consciousness of what you're actually experiencing, every day. You don't see anything anymore."
You can see that freedom today in his ceaseless motion -- jogging in place during timeouts, running the halls of the US Airways Center before games, as the swells from the lower bowl of the arena call his name and he smiles and waves and is gone again. To keep moving is to keep all the avenues as open as they can be. To keep your life in motion is to keep your life genuine, to keep it real, as they say, which doesn't always have to be a slogan you can use to sell things.
There's a lot of dummy in me," he laughed. "You'd be surprised at how normal a cross section of America there is in an NBA locker room. For the most part, in my career, I've had good teammates and interesting people who had a lot to offer, whether or not they could expound on the new health-care bill or not."
He is the old one now, on a team full of robust young players who have brought his game back to where he was sure it should be. He is 36, and it is a number that is in many ways foreign to him. Age is a limiting thing, so he doesn't acknowledge it. Age curtails options, restricts growth, truncates experimentation and wonder, so he chooses not to feel it. "Thirty-six," muses Nash, who runs three sports clubs in British Columbia. "Some days, it's tougher than others. That number seems unfamiliar to me, although I get glimpses of it, once in a while. I think I'm just vain enough to think that I'm not 36, but every now and then, I catch a glimpse that these young guys think I'm an old man. I catch a glimpse and I think, Wow, these guys must think I'm ... you know ..."
Lunch is winding down. Business is concluded over the second glass of wine, and the restaurant falls quiet again. The valet lot outside is giving up its Cadillacs until only his bicycle is left. Steve Nash tips the valet, and he's off, one man riding through an afternoon that is clearing away. The rain has stopped, and the sky's going blue, and the desert mountains look harsh and unforgiving, the way that desert mountains are supposed to look. Everything looks real again in the sun.