The path began a gradual ascent, sloping canyon walls reflecting the late afternoon sun. A thousand dimpled footprints, hawks drifting on thermal banks. Steve Nash had done the radio shows, had said all the right things, had absorbed the moment. On some basic level, he needed to get clear. He paused and regarded his surroundings. His friends in Los Angeles wouldn’t shut up about the canyons. Magical places, they said. Places to heal. He saw discarded soda cans and water bottles, bleached from the sun. Dried dog feces and flies. He pushed his sweaty hair off his forehead, began his solitary journey again and was forced to stop short. Standing in his path were two men - a vaguely familiar tall white guy with rosy cheeks, and Craig Sager, resplendent in a lime polo shirt, white shorts and a tinfoil hat with horns.
Nash wasn’t sure where to begin. “What’s with the hat?”
Sager smiled tentatively. “It helps to block the frequencies. I’ve been getting a lot of headaches lately.”
Nash processed this, squinted up at the tall one. "Weren't you that Russian guy from the Lakers?”
Slava grimaced slightly. “Ukrainian.”
Nash nodded agreeably, checked his watch. “Well, this has been super, guys. I’ve got to keep moving. They say there’s a nice view of the smog bank on top.” He tried edging around them. Medvedenko shuffled sideways for the block. Nash sighed heavily.
There’s a place where truth meets fiction meets truth. Stephen John Nash was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. His father was a journeyman soccer player who hailed from England. His mother had played netball at the national level. The family moved to Canada when Steve was a toddler - Regina, Saskatchewan, to be accurate. That’s where his brother Martin was born. The family didn’t remain there long, moving to Vancouver, and then Victoria, British Columbia. Craig Sager’s own journey was deeply rooted in Saskatchewan, or so he was convinced. In truth, their paths were serpentine and elusive. Not so Medvedenko, his heart was always in the Ukraine. He stood on the path uncomfortably. He disliked the heat.
Basketball has not been kind to Steve Nash’s nose. In 2007, during a heated second round series between the Suns and the Spurs, Nash collided with Tony Parker and the blood took on an epic life of its own. The nose was a monstrosity, and the Spurs prevailed. In 2010, Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers head-butted Nash's nose, resulting in an on-court self adjustment. "You play against them so many times in the playoffs." He was talking about the Lakers of course, not simply the west. The most obvious way home meshes naturally with Canada, but that doesn’t really tell the story.
Steve Nash played sports endlessly as a kid; lacrosse, rugby, hockey and soccer. His brother Martin went on to a 15-year pro career with nine different soccer clubs. His travels made Steve’s look linear. Their younger sister Joann was a standout soccer player in college. The way home isn’t always about geography. Sometimes it’s about life and relationships and a place in time. And as you get older you have your own children and they begin their own journey, with their own familial roots.
Nash found basketball somewhere around the 8th grade, and got real good, scary fast. He averaged, 21.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 11.2 assists in his senior year of high school. His coach sent letters by the dozen to major college programs, to no avail. The head coach from tiny Santa Clara College in California was impressed though, and visited the BC senior boys AAA championship. He called Nash the worst defender he’d ever seen and offered him a full ride scholarship. Four years at a school whose previous NBA success story was Kurt Rambis. The rest becomes a familiar fairytale story of Santa Clara’s improbable rise to contention in the NCAA tournaments.
It didn’t take much to get past Slava, just a half-ass spin move and Nash was scampering up the trail. The Ukrainian sighed heavily as he turned and began slowly trudging up, along with Sager, whose sandals skidded on every loose pebble.
Up ahead, standing by a cactus patch, was a tall blonde vision, back-lit by the sun and laughing. “Hair Canada, what took you so long?”
Nash grinned, “I got delayed by the welcome wagon.”
Nowitzki looked past his little buddy to the two men struggling up the trail. “Sager! Nice shirt! Slava?! Is that you? My god, man!”
Medvedenko finally allowed himself a smile. “Dirk”.
The God-creature’s laughter echoed off the canyon walls. “So we have a fantasy adventure today?”
Nash shrugged. “Whatever. They can tag along if they want.” He continued up the path and the others followed.
Steve Nash’s NBA career is well-documented - drafted at #15 by the Phoenix Suns and traded to Dallas a couple years later. He became friends with the kid from Germany, eventually returned to Phoenix when Mark Cuban wouldn’t match offers. All the years of playoff battles, reaching the Western Conference finals thrice. And the Suns’ long slide down as Coach D’Antoni left, and then Amare, Barbosa, and others. Nash remained loyal throughout, always returning, always trying. And marrying and fathering twin girls, and the birth of a son that coincided with the end of a marriage.
The trade to the Los Angeles Lakers took everybody by surprise for a myriad of reasons, not the least being a deal that was cobbled together from pieces of scrap. There were feelings of abandonment and anger. It would have been one thing to sign with the Raptors. That’s an understandable narrative, that’s going home. Even New York where he lived off season, all the way on the other side of the country. But Los Angeles was the unkindest cut of all. The years of not getting past them in the playoffs, the fights and hard feelings. Small market versus major market and the convenient belief that a Hollywood team simply buys their way to entitlement, year after year.
There are trajectories that lie outside the lines. Separated parenthood can be difficult to explain to those who haven’t lived it. Time moves faster with each advancing year. Feelings of loss can play into our decisions in deliberate and tangible ways, and in abstract, even ignored ways. In the end it was the simplest of decisions. Nash said that he wanted to be close to his children. That plus $27 million.
The four men had reached the top and were sitting on the edge of a ridge, overlooking the sprawling city below. Around them were sagebrush and golden yarrow, dusty fissures in the ground. The sun was starting to set, glinting off Sager’s tinfoil horns. He reached into the pockets of his shorts, pulled out a baggie of sunflower seeds and offered them around. There were no takers.
The newest Laker squinted toward America’s sideline reporter. “I know why I’m here. Why are you here?”
Craig wasn’t sure now, how to put it in words. “Los Angeles is a different place. We wanted to prepare you.”
Steve shrugged. “It’s not that different. I’ve spent the better part of twenty years in the west. And what’s all this business about Saskatchewan? You’re from Illinois.”
Sager chewed harder on his sunflower seeds. Nash wasn’t done. “And what about this Chipper and Bunny Bear nonsense. Those aren’t your kids.”
Craig’s frown lines grew ever deeper. He hadn’t left a perfectly workable scenario in Scottsdale just to have his storylines butchered. Dirk laughed, reached around and knocked the tinfoil hat off. A gust of wind took it spiraling away. Slava watched the proceedings implacably.
Sager hoisted himself up from his sitting position and stood, towering over Nash.
“I didn’t come here to be insulted.”
Dirk laughed, “Oh c’mon Sager, sit down. We’re just messing with you.”
Nash looked up and grinned. “Yeah, sit back down, gimme some of those sunflower seeds.”
Sager sat down warily, handed over the baggie.
Nash continued, “I know you’re a real dad. Chill.” He looked over toward the big Ukrainian. “How about you Slava, got any kids yet?”
Medvedenko frowned, “Yes, seven years old now.” His chin jutted out a little as he stared morosely off into the distance.
The others glanced at each other, shrugged, The moment passed as the sun dipped below the horizon. Steve Nash turned his attention back to the vista below, bands of burnt orange and purple, diffused by chemical particulate. You say you know but you don't know.