The End of an Era
By Anthony Burrola
The NBA knows what it’s doing.
When talking heads called for the head of Metta World Peace following his wild elbow that sidelined Oklahoma City guard James Harden with a concussion, Commissioner David Stern and company didn’t rush to judgment; they took their time to make sure the right decision was made, devoid of emotion, but ripe with justice and veracity.
When seemingly all hope for professional basketball in the 2011-2012 season was lost as the Players Union and NBA Litigators met fruitlessly for months of negotiation, the NBA didn’t leave the fans out to dry; it came together at the 11th hour and awarded them the greatest gift of all on Christmas: NBA basketball.
Likewise, when the NBA scheduled a Phoenix Suns v. San Antonio Spurs matchup on the eve of the regular season finale, it knew what it was doing.
Although the Suns were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs following Tuesday night’s loss to the Utah Jazz, and the Spurs showing up with nothing to play for after having secured themselves the best record in the West, Wednesday night’s game was not without intrigue.
Despite the lack of playoff implications, and on a night when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was nowhere to be found, the NBA presented its fans with one of the more competitive—albeit one-sided–rivalries of the past 10 years: Spurs and Suns. The original members of the Suns have all gone, with the exception of Phoenix mainstay and two-time MVP Steve Nash, but the bitter feelings still linger. There isn’t a Phoenix fan in the world who has something nice to say about anyone in the Spurs organization, and rightfully so. Nash has experienced too many a playoff exit at the Spurs’ behest.
But there also hung over the building one more bitter-sweet revelation: the notion that this could very well be Nash’s last game as a Sun. The All-Star point guard’s contract is up after the season, and, although he has no plans of retiring, he also has no idea who he’s going to play for next season.
“I spent so many years here and had so much success here. It’s a special place for me, no question,” Nash Said. “I’d like to play three years. I feel great and I don’t feel like there’s any reason why I can’t continue to play at a high level and contribute the way I’ve been. I want to keep going.”
Ever the consummate professional, Nash played as hard as he typically does on a night when neither he nor the Suns had anything to gain. The 38-year-old point guard scored 8 points and dished out 7 assists in only 17 minutes of play, but ultimately fell to the Spurs again, only this time, instead of being led by Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, they were led by Patty Mills, who erupted for a game-high 27 points.
While the game was close throughout, the Suns never quite stomped on the pedal and increased the intensity. They were content to trot out reserves Sebastian Telfair and Ronnie Price to help man the point, and allowed Shannon Brown, who finished with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, to jack up shots without remorse.
With Suns fans clamoring for Nash late in the 4th quarter, head coach Alvin Gentry eventually relented, throwing him in there for an unceremonious exit as his last play was an errant pass that resulted in a fast break for the Spurs. But the gesture was never about the result of the play; it was about the result of the entrance.
Allowing Nash to soak up the cheers and re-enter the game to a standing ovation, Gentry was showing Nash how much he has come to mean to the state of Arizona. The fans obliged, giving Nash the warmest ovation that I’ve witnessed since then-Detroit Pistons head coach Larry Brown called a timeout to give fans the chance to honor Reggie Miller in his last ever NBA game. And both deserved every second of it.
What does one give to a person who has made a career out of giving?
In case you were wondering, the question is rhetorical. The only thing Phoenix fans can do is thank whatever deity they pray to that Nash happened to land on their team (or Mark Cuban, who let him walk as a free agent).
Unfortunately for Nash, whether he’s played his last game as a Sun or as a professional basketball player, he once again suffered a season-ending defeat at the hands of the Spurs.
Only this time, he did so on his own terms.