- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

Steve Nash has come out of the cold of Canada with a mop top and a basketball flair all his own.

His NBA MVP coronation reveals a prejudice that eludes the pedestrian commentators of the day.

Their black-and-white revelation was framed in the massive context of Shaquille O’Neal and the hint of a bias that favored the white point guard over the black center. The results of the voting indicated no such motivation, just the usual idiocy of the few who managed to leave O’Neal off their ballot of five candidates.

This was a two-player competition, after all, Nash and O’Neal, or O’Neal and Nash, and anyone who voted otherwise missed a good season.

The issue of race, if not nationality, undoubtedly worked against Nash long ago.

How does a player become the NBA’s MVP after soliciting only one scholarship offer coming out of high school?

It is not as if Nash’s development was hastened by all the stellar competition he faced while playing at Santa Clara.

College recruiters are as apt to note the color of a player as the next person, which in America means sticking with the talent pool that dominates the game from sea to shining sea, but not beyond, as the U.S. forays in international competition have come to reveal.

The steady influx of Europeans in the NBA show anew that there are plenty of effective ways to play the game, although most are rarely celebrated on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” which feasts on the dribble-dribble-dunk entree.

The game’s fundamentals lose to the pizzazz of the track and field types.

Reggie Miller, who plays as if he has some European in him, was deemed a prissy jump shooter in the early part of his career before his genius and skill became too obvious to dismiss. He was as tough and fierce as players come, even if his pugnacious manner was cloaked in a Gumby-like frame.

Richard Hamilton is Miller’s successor in style and substance, both in the family of John Havlicek, who believed in running without the ball until an opponent dropped.

Miller refined the art, with the push-off maneuver to free himself and the flailing of his legs to draw contact while releasing the ball.

Last year, Larry Bird suggested the NBA’s marketing apparatus would benefit from having a white domestic star, the absence of one steeped in the culture of the American basketball system. Teens are not dumb. They gravitate to the playing fields where the encouragement is strongest.

The few who beat the culture stick to the dream against all odds.

Jeff Hornacek spent 14 seasons in the NBA after receiving the cold shoulder of recruiters in high school. So he walked on at Iowa State, while others would have walked away from the game.

The assignment before college recruiters is not always easy. You can spend five minutes at a high school or AAU game and pick out the best athletes, most usually black. Finding the best basketball player is not so easy.

There is nothing about Nash at first glace that evokes superlatives — other than perhaps his desperate need to find a competent hair stylist. You have to watch him over an extended period to appreciate the funk in his game and the logic behind the rules he breaks.

Nash will penetrate the three-second lane and then dribble back to the perimeter. He might move in a horizontal fashion, as opposed to a vertical one. He will leave his feet to pass the ball, which is a big no-no unless you are him or your name was Rick Barry.

His body is unexceptional, hardly cut, and his speed and quickness do not take away anyone’s breath. Here is the thing with Nash: He rarely stops running. He always is pushing the ball, always probing the soft spots of a team’s defense. He just has a feel for the game that is not easily taught.

You do not really wonder about the MVP tally, because you can spend all day debating the merits of Nash and O’Neal.

You just suspect Nash’s modest beginning was the work of those who saw a white point guard from Canada before they saw one heck of a player.

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