Sunday, May 08, 2005

Nash For Shaq Too

The official announcement won't come until Sunday, but the word was out when the Phoenix Suns practiced Saturday: Steve Nash has won the NBA's most valuable player award.

The Suns' ever-energized point guard said the impending honor would be a recognition of the team's success and refreshing, unselfish style of play more than of his individual accomplishments.

``I definitely won this award because of my role on the team,'' Nash said. ``I didn't win this because I overpower people or I'm dominating people with physical ability, whether it's jumping ability or strength or height.''

The addition of Nash was the main reason the Suns went from 29 victories in 2003-04 to a league-best 62 this season. The new-look, up-tempo team averaged 110 points per game, the most in the NBA in a decade. It is, Nash has often said, the way the game is supposed to be played.

``To be considered in this setting, and the way the team plays, is really a testament to the game of basketball,'' Nash said of the award. ``Our team couldn't come close to winning 60 games if we didn't share the ball.''

With Nash at the controls, the Suns used a turbocharged version of ``small ball'' to blow past opponents. All five starters -- Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson -- had 30-point games. The Suns shattered the NBA record for 3-pointers in a season. Nash led the way with a career-best and NBA-leading 11.5 assists per contest.
``It's really an unbelievable honor for him,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said, ``and the team should take a lot of pride in that. Amare, Shawn, Joe, Q, Jimmy (Jackson), all those guys have really helped him with the award, it's part them, part him.''

With Nash getting him the ball, Stoudemire's scoring average climbed by 5 1/2 points to 26 per game, and his field goal shooting from 48 to 56 percent.
``I think it's more like a team award,'' Stoudemire said, ``but Steve is the motor. He has the ball in his hands 80 percent of the time, and a guy like Steve, he gets everyone involved.''

Nowhere are Nash's accomplishments more celebrated than in his native Canada. He grew up Victoria, the distinctively British-flavored capital of British Columbia on Vancouver Island and not exactly a basketball hotbed. After high school, Santa Clara was the only college to seriously recruit him.

Even Nash wonders how someone from that background could become an MVP in the NBA.

``I don't really know what to make of it,'' he said. ``I had one scholarship offer, and I didn't have any NBA players in my neighborhood. I don't even think I dreamed about this award. I don't know what to say. I just kept trying.''

The Suns return to playoff action Monday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. In some ways, the award is a distraction.

``I think that's another thing that's really preventing me from getting a good handle on what's happening here,'' Nash said, ``because I am totally concerned with Monday and our game, and pending awards and stuff like that, no matter how much of an honor it would be, is really in the way of what's most important.''

As one would expect from one accustomed to giving rather than receiving, Nash said he wouldn't have voted for himself.

``I would probably vote for Shaquille (O'Neal),'' he said. ``He's one of the greatest ever to play the game. I look up to him. He's a huge part of this game's history already. He's one of the very best personalities and players in the game's history.''

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