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FROM THIS EPISODE

Nash a Force

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Last summer the Phoenix Suns fueled the corporate jet and an unusual posse climbed aboard to make perhaps one of the most important trips in the recent memory of sports. The Suns' new owner, a number of team officials, and the team's top player settled into the leather seats of the posh plane and dived into an animated game plan. Their destination? Dallas. But the game plan wasn't to be executed on the hardwood floor of the Mavericks' arena. These men were headed to the private home of Mavericks star point guard Steve Nash. The feisty Nash had been the cornerstone leader for Dallas for years and now Phoenix was bound and determined to get him to switch uniforms.

Actually, Steve Nash started his pro career with the Suns in 1996. He was at that time one of the more unlikely characters in professional basketball. He was from British Columbia, Canada, where hoops are more of a mystery than a sport. NBA scouts don't spend much time North of the border. Nash received only one college scholarship offer and that wasn't from Duke or Kentucky or the U Conn Huskies. But Nash played his heart out, as he is wont to do, at Santa Clara, and the Suns picked him up at graduation. He was small, rode the bench that first year in Phoenix, and wound up in a trade to Dallas. And that's when the Steve Nash trademark hustle we have come to know and appreciate started to spark. Long, stringy hair dripping wet, eyes flaring, supremely fit, Nash dashed from corner to corner, basket to basket, as the Dallas playmaker extraordinaire. He was respected by his teammates, adored by his fans, and had every intention of finishing his career as a Maverick.

But then that corporate jet landed in Dallas last summer, carrying one of the great talents in the game today, Amare Stoudamire. And perhaps beyond the Phoenix offer of a an enticing five-year $65 million free-agent contract, it was Stoudamire's plea for Nash to become a Sun, to lift the team to their full potential, that got Nash packing.

The Nash vertical jump in unimpressive, his scoring numbers aren't comparable to dozens of players in the league but, as his teammate Stoudamire puts it, &quotThe; ball is in Steve's hands 80% of the time and he's the one who makes the magic happen for us."

The MVP vote came down to Nash and superstar Shaquille O'Neal, Several sports writers argued on O'Neal's behalf this week. He also lifted his team, the Miami Heat. He shed a whopping 50 pounds and allowed us to see what an awesome talent his teammate Dwane Wade is. But the Phoenix numbers were just too dazzling. Nash led them to the best record in the NBA. And he helped them improve so radically that they won 33 more games than they did last year. It was almost a Most Valuable Team award, more than a Most Valuable Player award this week. And, typical of the all-team, all-the-time mentality of Nash, he called up the entire Phoenix team to the podium to join him in accepting the honor. He was also so very Nash in his humility. He said he's nowhere near the basketball player that is Shaquille O'Neal. That he looks down the list of former MVP's--Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird--and jokes that it's easy to play that game with this list where you guess which name doesn't belong.

But ask the Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni if Nash belongs in the MVP crowd. D'Antoni this week won the league's Coach of the Year award. The Suns are booked in Vegas to win the NBA title this year and when the coach is asked how his boys got themselves in this position, he quickly and simply responds &quotI; have Steve Nash&quot.;

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

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