They're in it together now. They're in it forever, or until the Phoenix Suns win an NBA championship. Because if the Suns don't win a championship in the near future -- if Steve Nash retires as one of the greatest players in NBA history to not win a title -- Nash will be tied forever to David Stern.
Like an anvil.
|Stern's decision will haunt Nash like alimony -- until Nash wins a title. (Getty Images)|
Stern has done well. He guided the league through its drug issues of the 1980s, emerging on the other side -- thanks to Michael, Magic and Larry -- stronger than ever. If the league has been weakened in recent years as Michael and Magic have given way to Stephen (Jackson) and Ron (Artest), so be it. Stern didn't sign those knuckleheads, but he did suspend the crap out of them when they left behind a mess on the Palace floor.
But now Stern has pooped on the wrong rug. He soiled Steve Nash's best chance at an NBA championship, and considering he turns 34 next season, Nash doesn't have that many great chances left.
Don't tell me it's too late to discuss Steve Nash and David Stern and that grotesque suspension of two Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals, when the only bad guy from their Game 4 incident was a Spur, Robert Horry. Don't say we're done talking about that. Don't you get it? Unless Nash leads the Suns to an NBA title in the next two or three years, we'll never be done talking about his empty ring finger and David Stern's astonishingly rigid abuse of power. One topic will lead naturally, unavoidably, to the next.
Nash has two MVP awards but zero NBA titles, and if that's how those numbers are to remain, he will be remembered equally for both, like a quarterback in the NFL. John Elway wasn't validated until he led Denver to the Super Bowl title. The same goes for Peyton Manning and the Colts. Dan Marino? His ranking among the best quarterbacks in NFL history is debated to this day for only one reason: He never won a Super Bowl.
And so it could go for Steve Nash, which sucks. He should've won a third MVP this season and should be remembered as one of the six best point guards in NBA history, somewhere behind Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, somewhere with Bob Cousy, John Stockton and Isiah Thomas.
Nash and Stockton might be the third- and fourth-best point guards ever, but they'll generally be rated behind Johnson and Robertson (as they should) but also behind Cousy and Thomas (as they shouldn't) because Cousy and Thomas won NBA titles.
Stockton owns NBA records for assists and steals, and he scored 19,711 points. But he never won a ring, though he had his chances. He teamed with two-time MVP Karl Malone forever, went to the playoffs every year, went to the Finals twice.
To date, Nash's best chance was this year. Maybe next year the Suns win their title, and this whole thing becomes a moot point. David Stern had better hope so. Because if the Suns never win a title -- if this year was their best shot -- Stern will go down as the commissioner who helped deny Nash a title with some Bruce Bowen-like dirty defense.
The Suns were probably better than the Spurs this season, winning 61 games to San Antonio's 58, but at worst the teams were dead even, separated only by the advantage of the home court. In the regular season the home team won each of the three meetings, with two games in San Antonio. In the playoffs, the Suns and Spurs split four games until their series turned irrevocably after -- and undeniably because -- Stern the lawyer decided to treat his league like a Draconian courtroom.
An NBA rule mandates a one-game suspension for any player who leaves the bench area during an altercation. After Horry drove Nash into the scorer's table, Suns star Amare Stoudemire and rotation regular Boris Diaw strayed a few feet from the bench. True. But this wasn't a felony lawsuit. There was no letter of the law -- no law at all -- to be followed. Nor was this a lesson for little Johnny about the value of having rules and following them. This was an athletic contest, a sport, and Stern took the sport right out the Western Conference semifinals by punishing the Suns, in reality, worse than he punished the Spurs.
Fact: Phoenix was tied with the Spurs at two games apiece before the suspensions.
Fact: Phoenix went 0-2 after the suspensions.
Fact: The Spurs-Suns winner was going to be heavily favored to beat Utah in the Western finals, and then to beat whatever dreck made it through the dismal Eastern Conference.
So the Spurs' Tim Duncan will get another ring. So will heavily jeweled point guard Tony Parker, a very good player on a great team, the Troy Aikman of his generation.
Steve Nash? He'll watch from home -- the Dan Marino of his generation, had Marino ever been sacked by his league commissioner.