A non-satirical post, because it’s Saturday, and I have a quick story about Steve Nash, quiet beginnings, and unseen endings.
My grandad Bill was an athlete of note in Victoria, B.C., a long time ago. A hot-shooting basketball point guard, and a vacuum of a middle-infielder in baseball, one of my prized possessions growing up was a scrapbook full of newspaper articles with grainy shots of him as a young man, defined legs splayed out as he threw in a crossover dribble for the camera, his eyes cast hopefully upwards at an unseen hoop.
Despite the talent, life called. By his twenties Bill was working; delivering milk, selling insurance, dispatching for the Victoria Machinery Department, and eventually working for Island Tug and Barge (now Seaspan) managing personnel and tugs to tow the vast log booms along the prodigiously beautiful B.C. coast. He married, and had a son. The newspaper clippings dropped off.
Years later, as a grandad, he could still post up for a quick three-pointer on the cracked local courts, his shooting hand comfortably under the ball; the balance hand finding its way, with old habit, to the guiding side. In spite of his sensible footwear and pressed pants, the form from those old photos was easily recognizable; the eyes again looking upwards, calculating angles, watching for blockers, being the go-to.
Bill lived his final years at the foot of Mount Tolmie, a few hundred metres from St. Michaels, a private school in Victoria. I don’t remember what his relationship was with the coaches there, but I think that as a former player, in a city that acts more like a town, he was welcomed to hang out. I know he watched the games and knew a lot of the players.
One visit (we’d go out to B.C. every other year growing up) he told me about a kid who was the best player he’d ever seen. It was Steve Nash.
“He can shoot the lights out,” he told me, as we drove down Richmond Road, past the green lawns of St. Mikes. “Passes like he has eyes in the back of his head.”
I would have been about twelve, and the imagery of that description stayed with me until now. Every time I watch a clip of Nash rising from a varnished court to shoot – feet dangling, sweaty hair plastered to his forehead, hands hanging hopefully after the ball leaves them – or sliding a pass through a shifting thicket of giants, I think of grandad, shaking his head in admiration as he described the then-unknown Steve.
Bill passed away a few months before Nash won the first of his two consecutive MVP Awards, in 2005. But he’d seen him become an NBA All-Star, and was enormously proud.
Last night, Steve was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He began his acceptance speech with typical humility, saying he was never supposed to have been there, and his first thank-you was to the fans. I thought of Bill. Of quiet beginnings, and of unseen – but not entirely unanticipated, or unimagined – outcomes. Of things started that don’t require the presence of those who first witnessed them to finish, but could do neither without an audience throughout. And of the ever-shifting nature of the membership of that audience, and the connections we all have to those who cheered before, and will cheer after.