Nash ultimate team player

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

It was the worst-kept secret in NBA history, but it's the kind of news you just can't get too much of.

Two weeks after the cat got out of the bag, the NBA made it official yesterday: Canada's Steve Nash has won back-to-back league MVP's.

"I have to admit, it's a little bit uncomfortable to be singled out amongst all those great players two years in a row," said Nash at a news conference in Phoenix. "I have to pinch myself. I couldn't believe it last year and to do it again is even more difficult to understand."

And while the timing was a little off as far as news value is concerned, it couldn't have been more perfect in the way it reminds us that basketball is a team sport, not just a collection of individuals.

Nash and his Phoenix Suns are still on a high after defeating the L.A. Lakers and Kobe Bryant, coming from behind a 3-1 deficit in their NBA opening- round series.

Bryant was one of Nash's MVP rivals and, in many ways, is the anti-Nash. Bryant is a great player who has some difficulty involving the other four players on the court as he weaves his magic. Nash is a great player whose magic is in the way he makes all the players around him more effective.

A prime example was the fact that the Suns were able to go into Los Angeles last Thursday for Game 6 and win, despite the fact that Bryant scored 50 points. When it came to Game 7, the Suns simply buried the Lakers.

Nash's reverence for the concept of team is reflected in his own humility. Confronted yesterday with a list of names that includes Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, who have won the MVP award in successive seasons, Nash expressed some bewilderment.

"Like I said before, it's a little uncomfortable," he said. "I guess part of me just tries to find the comedy in it. It's thrilling, it's comedic, it's unbelievable and I just feel honoured to be recognized. I love playing and I love working at it and challenging myself and I'm just lucky to have a place to do that in my life."

As we sit here in Toronto and look covetously southward, wondering just how you get a player of Nash's value into a Raptors uniform, we can take solace in the fact that it was Bryan Colangelo, now president and GM of the Raptors, who enticed Nash to come back to Phoenix when his contract was up in Dallas two years ago.

The point is not that Colangelo has some sleight of hand in his bag of tricks to get Nash to Toronto, because that's just not going to happen. But what's important to understand is that Colangelo clearly has a great appreciation of the value of a superior point guard. It would be a shock if the new Raptors boss doesn't have that as one if his priorities here.

The team needs a quarterback. How many games did the Raptors blow late because they lacked the composure or the leadership down the stretch and often into overtime? A dozen? Maybe more.

And if you think that observation is a no-brainer, be aware that others in the game don't have nearly as much appreciation of guard play and the ability of a great guard to make his teammates better. How else do you explain the fact that so many people in the NBA are critical of Nash's selection?

Mike James was a nice surprise this year, delivering more offence for the Raptors than anyone could have expected. But he was a poor-man's Kobe Bryant, racking up impressive point totals, often in losing efforts. He did not make the players around him better and that is the litmus test of a point guard.

It's ironic, looking back, that Nash was not regarded as a franchise-type player until well into his NBA career. He came from a small school (Santa Clara) and was a Canadian, to boot. He was drafted 15th overall by the Suns, who didn't realize what they had when they traded him away two years later.

But Nash blossomed in Dallas and, when he became a free agent after the 2003 season, Colangelo wasn't going to let him get away again.

Now he is the toast of the hoops world and how good is that? Imagine that. A guy who doesn't think he is bigger than the game, as MVP. What'll they think of next?


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