Canadian is a class act

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

On the day he was handed the NBA's MVP trophy last May, Steve Nash was asked what was going through his mind, knowing he was joining a list of winners that included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

"Who does not belong?" the Phoenix Suns point guard said, with typical self-deprecation.

Now, the cat's out of the bag on the 2005-06 MVP and, apparently, Nash has joined Magic as the only point guard to be MVP in back-to-back seasons.

The voting has been tabulated and a league source told the Arizona Republic that the Canadian has won a close vote over LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks) and Chauncey Billups (Detroit Pistons).

Another Phoenix area newspaper, The East Valley Tribune, has polled 75 of the 127 writers and broadcasters who vote on the MVP award and Nash was comfortably ahead in that sampling.

Even as the news was coming out, internet voices last evening already were noisily proclaiming that Bryant, the league's leading scorer who lit up the Raptors for 81 points this season, had been shafted by the voters.

At least the complaints weren't racial, as they were last season when one Miami writer claimed Nash's win over the Heat's Shaquille O'Neal was a black and white issue among voters.

Truth is, if Nash's credentials were strong enough to win last year's award, then this year's numbers are impeccable.

Somehow, playing with six new players in the Suns lineup, Nash managed to improve in virtually every offensive category.

His field goal percentage improved from 50.2% to 51.2%.

His three-point percentage went from 43.1% to 43.9%.

His free-throw percentage went from 88.7% to 92.1%.

He improved by almost a full rebound per game, from 3.3 to 4.2%, and he averaged 18.8 points per game, as opposed to 15.5 a year ago.

He took fewer personal fouls and blocked more shots and while he went down in assists from 11.5 to 10.5, he still led the league.

Last year's MVP win propelled Nash to his first Lou Marsh Award as Canada's athlete of the year. Ironically, that's probably one award he won't win this season.

This being an Olympic year, it would be a monumental travesty of justice if Winnipeg speed skater Cindy Klassen, who won five medals in Turin, did not get that national award.

The best thing about Nash, who has also been an Olympian, is that he will, no doubt be applauding the loudest and longest when Klassen is named because, well, because that's who he is.

He gets it.

What he gets most is what it means to be a Canadian. He has answered the call to the national team throughout his career.

Nash is one of those guys who doesn't just talk the talk about putting the team first, unlike some other NBA superstars who shall remain nameless (Vince Carter). For Nash, it is all about team.

At that same news conference last May, he insisted his teammates join him on the dais when he got his award.

One of those players was Amare Stoudemire, a massive inside presence and one of the keys to the Suns' success a year ago. He lost most of this season to injury, as did another big man, Kurt Thomas.

No problem. All Nash did was hook up with Shawn Marion and turn him into an MVP candidate himself. With Nash setting him up, Marion became one of four players who averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, himself a candidate for coach of the year, also may be in the running for diplomat of the year. He told the San Francisco Chronicle last weekend that it's tough to tell who is more important to the overall team picture.

"Without Steve, we don't do anything," he said. "Without Shawn Marion, we don't do anything. So it's hard to say who's more important."

Apparently it wasn't too hard for the voters to make the distinction, and that's no knock on Marion.

Nash is just special in so many ways, both as a player and as a person.


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