The Instigator

Phoenix Sun, entrepreneur, filmmaker, do-gooder

Feb 25, 2009
Outside Magazine
Steve Nash

Nash in his comfort zone    Photo: Photograph by Nigel Parry

It's late October, and I'm standing in the shade of a spindly palm tree in Phoenix's Grant Park. One of the veterans from the American Legion post across the street wants to know who we're taking pictures of.

"That's Steve Nash, from the Suns," I tell him.

"Stevenash? I love that guy!

I can't believe this. Stevenash!" The wrinkled old guy shuffles across the street and snakes through the neighborhood kids arrayed around the Phoenix Suns' point guard, asking for autographs. So far, the Victoria, B.C.–raised Nash has dished out more than 60 signatures and posed for more cell-phone snapshots than portraits by our photographer, Nigel Parry.

When your day job is marshal­ling the offense for an NBA contender, it would be easy to retreat behind the people who run your charity and ink your endorsement deals. But not Nash, who has a crazy number of balls in the air: sports idol, husband, father, soccer fanatic, president of a charitable foundation, filmmaker, fitness addict, and, most recently, co-founder of the Steve Nash Sports Club, a $5 million Vancouver gym that opened in 2007, with up to 12 more locations planned for B.C.

"I've known him since we were 11," says Jenny Miller, executive director of the Steve Nash Foundation, "and Steve has always been an instigator. As movement-oriented as he ison the court, that's Steve off the court. You could say he has a kinetic heart."

You could, but Nash's explanation is simpler. "My gifts as a basketball player are my commitment, perseverance, and hard work," he tells me. If you've watched him play, you know that's an understatement. More wisdom from our humble hero:

1. There's time in the day for everything. A point guard's job is to "create"—to feed the ball into scoring opportunities and, if one plan fails, immediately try something else. Nash takes this concept to the extreme. He bites off more than most citizens, much less pro athletes—and until this year, he's done it all by himself. His secret? Using every spare moment.

"I finally hired some people," he acknowledges, "but I use my time to do the things I love. There's time in the car to make calls and time on the plane to work. I'm always on the phone or Skype or e-mailing about the foundation or films, things we're doing in the gym. I multitask."He pauses. "I just think those things are a lot more fun than sitting around watching TV."

2. Make everyone around you better. In 2006, Nash became the third guard in NBA history to win back-to-back league MVP awards, and he did it while placing 29th in scoring—but first in assists.?Always the instigator, he brought high-octane play back to the NBA, stampeding down the court, reading the situation, and making ridiculous passes—often behind his back or between an opponent's legs, but always for the sake of setting up his teammates.

That year, Time put him on its list of 100 "People Who Shape Our World," in which Charles Barkley wrote of the Suns guard, "What has he taught us? It pays to be selfless. You can be content just to make the players around you better."

Off the court, it's no different. Consider Nash's foundation, which funds early-childhoodeducation in Arizona, builds pediatric-cardiology wards in his wife's native Paraguay, and is at work on a youth center in war-torn Uganda. During the season, Nash spends at least ten hours a week on day-to-day operations, and in 2008 the group won the Steve?Patterson Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy.

And he doesn't stop there. In 2007, Nash persuaded his friend Yao Ming to help him organizea game in Beijing that raised $2.5 million for AIDS orphans and other causes, and last off-season he started a benefit soccer game in New York with American player Claudio Reyna.

3. Marry your work and your passion. Last year the Suns organization announced that it would start converting Phoenix's US Airways Center into, fittingly, a solar-powered facility in 2009. Who had come to the team with the idea two years earlier? Yeah, that's who.

He again had the earth in mind when he joined with Mark Mastrov, creator of 24-HourFitness, to bring a state-of-the-art gym to his home province.

"I've spent half my life in gyms," he says. "I love for people to be healthy, whether it's mentally, physically, or emotionally."

The 38,500-square-foot Steve Nash Sports Club follows LEED principles, using low-voltage lighting, bamboo floors and lockers, rugs made from old shoelaces, and recycled-rubber workout surfaces. In keeping with his holistic-health philosophy, the club combines weights and yoga, cycling with Pilates. In the future, the gym will up the eco-ante withnew energy systems as they become available.

"As we go on, we'd love for the cardio equipment to generate energy,"?says Nash, "to have people provide the energy for their gym with their energy."

4. Make workouts fun and they won't be work. Nash and his family spend their summers in New York's Tribeca neighborhood, where they don't drive a car. Instead, to get to his workouts at Chelsea Piers, Nash makes the three-mile commute up the West Side Highway on his skateboard. It's his way of being a normal guy, having fun, and getting an aerobic workout.

At the gym, his routine includes 15 or 20 minutes of shooting, 20 to 30 minutes of weight lifting, more shooting, and then the skate home, where he might jump rope and run stairs for more cardio. Again, he makes it work by killing multiple birds with one stone.

"Even when I play soccer in the summer, I'm consciously and subconsciously thinking about how I'm moving, making sure that I'm using the right muscles, using the right sequences, leading from the center …"

So hold on. While playing soccer for fun in July, he analyzes "sequences"?

"I think about it in the moments I can, and hopefully those moments allow it to become second nature in the moments that you're concentrating on something else."

5. Follow your bliss. When I ask Nash who inspires him today, he cites Barack Obama and filmmakers Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen brothers. He says he's dead serious about directing movies someday, and he's already started a production company with his cousin Ezra Holland, a music-video director. The pair have created Web shorts for Nike, like last year's "The Sixty Million Dollar Man," to promote the recycled-leather Trash Talk shoe. In it, Nash does a Lee Majors impression as he dives for a loose ball, cracks into pieces, and has to be put back together as "the world's first recycled man." This fall he made some ads for VitaminWater that show he's not afraid to make fun of himself; in one, he barges into a crowded office and announces, "Excuse me. While I'm here, does anyone need an autograph?"

This year, Nash will put his talents up alongside those of folks like Spike Lee for 30/30, ESPN's 30th-anniversary series of one-hour films on athletes from the past 30 years. Nash's contribution will tell the story of Canadian national hero Terry Fox, a 21-year-old cancer victim who in 1980 set off to run across the country with a prosthetic leg, completing 143 marathons in 143 days before tumors in his lungs stopped his effort.

"I was six," Nash says, "and I remember every day of that summer, waking up and turning on the TV to find out where Terry was. He picked us all up."

Nash's documentary, which will air in April 2010, should give another clue to the origins of what drives him. "I think there's an absolutely direct correlation between me wanting to help people and the fact that I had someone like Terry Fox to look up to as a kid."

Filed To: Athletes

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