Steve Nash's tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers has been plagued by injury, and after being ruled out for the rest of the season on Thursday due to ongoing nerve problems in his back, it would make sense if the 40-year-old wanted to call it quits after an illustrious 18-year career.
But Nash has no plans of retiring, and the two-time MVP gave a completely honest reason why in Part Three of The Finish Line, his video documentary on Grantland.com:
"It's just a reality," Nash said. "I'm not going to retire because I want the money. It's honest. We want honest athletes, but at the same time, you're going to have people out there saying ‘He's so greedy. He's made x amount of money and he has to take this last little bit.' Yes, I do, have to take that last little bit. I'm sorry if that is frustrating to some but if they were in my shoes they would do exactly the same thing. I wouldn't believe for a minute that they wouldn't."
It's tough to blame Nash for wanting to return in order to collect the $9.7 million he's owed next season. But while Nash admits the cash is a big motivation for him returning, he also says he's not going to just mail in the season and collect his checks:
"I could come in every day and say, ‘I'm not right today.' Just be injured, ride out the rest of my contract and collect my checks," Nash continued. "While I'm not willing to retire and give up that last year of my contract, I'm also not willing to just sit back and say, ‘I don't feel it today.' ... That's just not me. I still love the game enough. Still love to fight. I want to do everything I can get to back out there."
Besides the money and his love of the game, Nash says he has also extra motivation from all the critics who say he should retire:
"To come to the end of my career and have a lot of people calling for me to retire, a lot of people believing that I'm done, and frankly a lot of people being extremely critical of me. ... You have a lot of people who want to say you're just trash," Nash said. "That's not my primary source of motivation - to show everybody - [because] my primary source of motivation is to get out there because I love the game. But it would be nice to shut some people up while I'm doing it."
To shut those people up, Nash has to stay on the court, which has proved to be troublesome over the past few years. Nash's back problems date back to last season, and they struck again at the outset of this year. After missing nearly three months, Nash returned in early February, and he put forth his best effort of the year in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
But two days later against the Chicago Bulls, Nash's knee brushed up against the knee of Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich, and the nerve issues flared up again. Nash attempted to play in the following game, but he was ineffective and hasn't seen the court since.
Nash says he's in as good condition as he has ever been during his career, but as evidenced by how he re-injured his back, all it takes is one little thing to throw everything off.
With his body betraying him, Nash knows he's close to the end of the line, which is why he created the Grantland series. In an interview with Bruce Arthur of the National Post, Nash talked about how he's coming to grips with the impending end of his athletic career:
"I thought to myself one day a few years ago, how do I replace showing off in front of 18,000 people three or four times a week?" he says. "Where does that outlet go that lets me be creative, expressive, to show off, to brag, to produce, to incite, to excite, to anger - that just goes, and then what?
"And that's the part that I think a lot of athletes never get to, because as an athlete you want to be tough, so you don't enter into those emotional-type talks. You say, yeah, I'll be fine, here we go ... Don't deny it; honour it. Yeah, OK, I'm coming down now, and I'm going to smash into the ground any minute, and I'm going to have to take inventory and get up and start over again. This series is one part cathartic and therapeutic, and it was born out of those thoughts, and I realized that this is a subject that everyone who really loved a sport, no matter their level, goes through."
While Nash wants to keep playing, his future with the Lakers remains up in the air. Nash is the only point guard on the roster under contract for next season, but Kendall Marshall and Jordan Farmar could be brought back. Los Angeles will also have a lottery pick, meaning a selection of Dante Exum, Marcus Smart or Tyler Ennis could be in order . The Lakers could also make a play for a point guard in free agency, and if they don't want Nash's $9.7 million clogging their cap, they could release him and spread out his cap hit over three seasons using the "stretch" provision in the new CBA.
It's tough to see Nash struggle like he has as his career wraps up, but his honesty is refreshing and his attempts to go out on a higher note are admirable. Here's the full third episode of his Grantland documentary: