The Political Legacy Of Steve Nash

by TRAVIS WALDRON –

steve nash

CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/MATT YORK)

Steve Nash, two-time NBA MVP and future Hall of Famer, formally announced his retirement, writing in The Players’ Tribune that after 19 years in the league it is finally time to hang it up.

“I will likely never play basketball again,” Nash wrote. “It’s bittersweet. I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else. This letter is for anyone who’s taken note of my career. At the heart of this letter, I’m speaking to kids everywhere who have no idea what the future holds or how to take charge of their place in it. When I think of my career, I can’t help but think of the kid with his ball, falling in love. That’s still what I identify with and did so throughout my entire story.”

The 41-year-old Nash is in the final season of a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers but hasn’t played during the 2014-2015 season. He’ll leave the game as one of its all-time great point guards, the NBA’s all-time leading free throw shooter and third all-time in assists. But for all of his success on the court, Nash will also leave behind a legacy of speaking out on controversial political issues throughout his career.

In 2010, Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver came up with the idea of wearing the team’s “Los Suns” jersey during the playoffs to honor the city’s Latino community after Arizona had passed SB 1070, an anti-immigration law that sparked protests across the state and at pro sporting events. Nash, who by then had won both of his MVP awards while playing for Phoenix, supported the team wearing the jerseys when Sarver came to players and later spoke out against the law in interviews.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Nash said. “I think the law is very misguided. I think it’s, unfortunately, to the detriment of our society and our civil liberties. I think it’s very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. As a team and as an organization, we have a lot of love and support for all of our fans. The league is very multicultural. We have players from all over the world, and our Latino community here is very strong and important to us.”

Nash’s most famous political stance came in 2003, when he walked onto the court at the NBA All-Star Game wearing a shirt that read, “No War. Shoot For Peace” to protest the beginning of the Iraq War. Nash, then playing for the Dallas Mavericks, backed up his decision to wear the t-shirt after the game and in the days after.

“I believe that us going to war would be a mistake,” Nash said after the game. “Being a humanitarian, I think that war is wrong in 99.9 percent of all cases. I think it has much more to do with oil or some sort of distraction, because I don’t feel as though we should be worrying about Iraq.”

Nash’s protest sparked controversy in the media and among his fellow players. When former San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson, who played college ball at Navy and served as a Naval officer before beginning his basketball career, heard that Nash and another Dallas Maverick, Nick Van Exel, were against the war, he said: “If it’s an embarrassment to them maybe they should be in a different country, because this is America and we’re supposed to proud of the guys we elected and put in office.”

Nash, a Canadian, didn’t back down.

“From the start, I spoke out just because I don’t want to see the loss of life,” Nash said, according to ESPN. “People are mistaking anti-war as being unpatriotic. This has nothing to do with the fact that I’m from Canada. This is a much bigger issue. But now that we’re in battle, I hope for as many lives to be spared as possible, (and) as little violence as possible before a resolution.”

Nash was also among the NBA players who publicly supported Jason Collins when the veteran center came out as gay in 2013, tweeting: “The time has come. Maximum respect.” But years before that, Nash had said publicly that he would welcome a gay teammate.

“If a player in the locker room came out, it would come and go quickly, too,” Nash told the New York Times in 2011. “I really don’t think it’s a big issue anymore. I think it would be surprisingly accepted, and a shorter shelf life than maybe we would imagine. I think the time has come when it should happen soon.”

Today, the idea of athletes talking openly about political and social issues is more commonplace, perhaps because Nash persisted in speaking his mind when fewer athletes felt comfortable doing so. So while Nash will be remembered as an all-time great on the court, his off-court contributions to the NBA and the world of sports are worth remembering too.

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress