Steve Nash: The Complete Interview

The Phoenix Suns star takes a break from running the point, filmmaking, building green gyms, and charity work to talk to WILL PALMER.

Nash in his comfort zone.     Photo: Nigel Parry

At 35, Steve Nash has already won back-to-back league MVP awards and is on his way to the Hall of Fame. The Canadian point guard is just as active and accomplished off the court. We spoke with Nash at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Phoenix as he was preparing for his 13th season in the NBA, finishing preproduction on an hourlong film for ESPN, being awarded the 2008 Steve Patterson Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy, and getting ready to open the second location in his chain of green fitness centers in British Columbia.

You have a new coach this year, Terry Porter. How are you feeling about the new season?
I'm excited. I think it's a big transition for us, to play 400 games for Mike D'Antoni and then to change; it's different, but it's nice for us to have a new vision, new ideas, and a new focus. I'm very optimistic.

It's all about the defense?
A lot of it's about the defense. I think we've lacked in that department and it's great that it's a priority for Terry— that's the only way for it to be a priority for a team who's not necessarily inclined: to have a coach who holds you accountable.

You'll probably have fewer trips down the court. Will you still be able to do the same things?
Maybe a little bit fewer, but generally I think Terry's working on half-court sets a lot, so there may be fewer trips in that respect or different looks in that respect, but (1) when we get stops, we're still gonna run, and (2) if you want to win games you've got to do what you're good at; we're good at pick-and-rolls. So I think we'll be somewhere in the middle and it might not be that huge a departure in the end.

The Steve Nash Sports Club was launched last year in Vancouver. How did the project come together?
I was lucky enough to be introduced to Mark Mastrov, who was the founder of 24 Hour Fitness. He built a company from taking over one gym as manager, buying out the owner, and 30 years later selling it for $1.7 billion. So I was lucky enough to meet a guy who has a vision, a model, and a track record that was successful, because it's a difficult business. I've spent half my life in gyms, if not more, and I love physical fitness and health; couple that with the fact that I love for people to be healthy, whether it's mentally, physically, or emotionally, and it's just a great opportunity for me to do something I love and have an impact on people's health.

And there's a second one opening?
The second one is opening in the spring and potentially, who knows, we may have eight to 12 in B.C. It's an interesting market, because it's a very sports-oriented part of the world, and at the same time there's not a huge presence for gyms, so we'd like to bring our gyms to everyone we can in the community.

Could it expand into the States?
It depends. There's a lot more competition in the States. If we can continue to really nail what we want to get out of the gym, then we'd love to get it to the States, but you need a really singular idea and vision to make a dent in the market here.

How much was LEED certification a part of your plans?
We have the best intentions, and we're learning every day and doing as much as we can. We have a lot of renewable resources and products, but it's still a work in progress. As we go on, we definitely want to look at solar panels, and we’d love for the cardio equipment to generate energy, to have people provide the energy for their gym with their energy. That's a beautiful idea. So that’s where we hopefully can go, but it’s going to take some time before the technology can really catch up.

Speaking of solar power, were you the one who suggested it for the arena?
Yeah. We made a connection with Energy Innovation Solutions, a company that I'm a partner with that does solar installations; they did [the solar facility for] Google headquarters. We made the introduction to the Suns two years ago, and I have to give them a lot of credit for being a pioneer that way as a sports franchise, especially considering that we are the Suns.

At the gym, you offer a lot of holistic fitness—yoga, Pilates, cycling. How much of those do you do yourself?
I love yoga and Pilates, and when I'm done playing I'll do a bunch of it; right now my time is finite and I have to prioritize. I have to do a lot more functional training, and I love to play my soccer, so that takes up a lot of my time and energy. So between the two of those, that leaves for yoga a couple of times a month.

And you skateboard for cardio?
I really skateboard for transportation. So in New York City [where Nash and his wife and twin daughters live in the summer], we don't have a car, and I skateboard as my main means of transportation. When I go shoot indoors at Chelsea Piers, it's like a three-mile skate up the West Side Highway. So it can be a great cardio workout.

What's your typical workout during the season?
I usually settle into a routine during the season where I shoot for about 15 or 20 minutes before and after practice, and then do the whole practice. The more experience and the more years I've played, I've had to focus on less time, more concentration: to really get my rhythm quickly and my confidence and then get off my legs. In the preseason, in the month of October, I work out almost every day, lifting weights for 20 or 30 minutes, and then during the season I usually lift weights twice a week, sometimes a little more.

How do you incorporate balance training?
I use a lot of balance training and functional training. Basically it's where you add an element of instability to a regular exercise. So whether it's on the physioball or the Bosu ball or just balancing on one leg, I try to incorporate an instable plane and/or movement to the exercise, so the body's doing two or more movements. For example, combine lunges or squats with an upper-body exercise so it's very applicable to the court. So you take off running, and if you add some weight and a movement to that, it's very much like trying to beat a guy and him pushing you, and you trying to control your body and have the strength and power to push through.

How much of your regime is something you've come up with yourself?
Well, I tailor a lot of it personally, but I've been lucky to work with a lot of great people who've taught me a lot and I've listened. The person who's had the biggest impact on my career is Rick Celebrini, the physiotherapist. He's a movement specialist, and he understands proper movement, sequencing, different planes of movement and how you should be moving correctly to be the most athletic—and luckily, being the most athletic also allows you to be the most sustainable and not injury-prone. I know that to be a good player, you have to stay healthy, and you have to be as athletic as you can possibly be. So I took to heart what I learned.

Do you feel like you're doing more than the typical NBA player to stay in shape?
I think I've always been one of the harder workers by necessity. You know, my gifts as a basketball player are different, and one of them is my commitment, perseverance, hard work

As you get a little older, are there things you have to do differently to keep up with the younger players?
Well, you have to work really hard, the older you get. I really feel as good as I've ever felt, but I think you have to work hard and you have to be extremely specific in what you’re doing. You do things with a purpose. I really have to think about what I’m doing. 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, all these things that allow me to reinforce things that (1) will make me a better athlete and (2) prevent me from being injured.

So you're consciously thinking of this during soccer games?
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. I think what's happened over years of training and thinking about it, it becomes something that is either second nature or is easy to get back when you lose it.

One of the things we admire at Outside is all the stuff you do off the court. You have a foundation that you're very active in, you do films, work on the gym, play soccer … How do you find the time?
Well, I finally hired some people to work for me, but up until now I've been doing it all myself and with the help of partners. And it takes a lot of time. Basically what it means, though, is that I think those things are a lot more fun than just sitting around watching TV… or doing nothing, or doing something else. I just 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. If it's fun, it's something you prioritize. I try to use all those moments in time where I can multitask, whether it's being on a team plane, in another city in a hotel where I'm not with my kids. These are things I enjoy, they keep me engaged. I'm always learning.

You've said that you were raised in a pretty laid-back family, there wasn't a lot of pressure put on you. So where did it all come from?
Well, it's natural. I don't know, I didn't have a choice, it's just the way I am. I think I'm a high-energy person to start with. I'm really passionate about things I enjoy, and I like to be out there doing things, and learning and challenging myself. So it's just more fun that way, just to get out and try and do and learn and meet people and try to do something new.

So you don't watch TV?
I do watch TV. But I don't watch TV aimlessly. I know the shows I want to watch and I have TiVo.

What do you watch?
I think HBO's been great the last five, ten years, so I watch a lot of HBO, I watch the odd soccer game, I watch a lot of movies

When it comes to your own kids, do you try to motivate them into certain areas?
That's a tricky one. I should probably get some education on how to raise kids. But I definitely don't want to influence them too heavily into what they should be doing. I just want to try to love them and support them, and hopefully that'll give them the confidence to do the things they want to do.

With kids spending more and more time indoors, what can we do as a culture to reverse that?
I think if we had the answers to that, we would have changed it. But hopefully it's cyclical. I know when I was a kid there wasn't as many options. Today with the Internet and technology, there's more options for kids. I think some of them are great options, there's a lot more education at your fingertips today as well. But there's nothing like being outside playing, or creating, or making art, or meeting new friends. Those are true-life experiences and lessons and opportunities to feel alive. So it would be nice if we could get kids back out there.

How do you manage your diet when you're out on the road?
I think it's very important, I think it's very underappreciated in general. And for athletes obviously more so, especially with all the travel, all the stresses that are put on your system, mentally, physically, emotionally, all those things that are taking away your strength; in order to replace that properly, I think diet's important. And I'm not perfect; I love sweets, I love a beer, glass of wine, but I really try to be disciplined, especially during the season. I try to eat as many fruits and vegetables as I can. I prefer lean meats or white fish generally, or salmon, but for me the staple is definitely tons of fruits, salad, vegetables, natural juices—as much healthy, natural stuff from the earth as possible. When I'm on the road, I try to find a really healthy nutritional bar, or take a bag of almonds or cashews, or get my hands on some fruit, and just be very picky about the types of stuff I eat in a hotel or restaurant.

Do you use music to motivate you?
I don't as much anymore; I use it more when I work out. In the summers, if I wake up at six or seven in the morning and go to the park and shoot with my iPod, it's a big help: skate down there with your iPod mix, 45 minutes of shooting feels like 20 minutes. I don't listen to music when I'm with my trainer or playing soccer or even shooting at the gym, but if I'm running stairs in a building or jumping rope or at the park shooting, I love having the music.

What are you listening to right now?
God, I listen to all sorts of stuff. Anything from classic rock to hip-hop, new music, reggae, salsa… tons of stuff, all mixed together.

When you're at the free-throw line, you always do a couple practice strokes. Is that a visualization thing?
It began really subconsciously. I was just getting a couple practices in, it wasn't like I spoke to a sports psychologist who said ‘you should do this.' It just started naturally, trying to get a couple practice strokes in so I didn't "shank" one. I think because there's so many components to a basketball game, it gets lost in the shuffle, but if you have a few seconds and play stops

Are you visualizing the ball going in?
No. I spent some time visualizing when I was younger, subconsciously and consciously. But when I shoot, when I'm practicing, I try to search for that feeling, that rhythm, that kind of perfect feeling and rhythm, and it's like you get in the groove. That's what I search for, so that's kind of my visualization: Consciously finding that groove, that rhythm, footwork, balance, timing, that rhythm that when the ball's going in it feels great. I just try to find that every day and reinforce it.

Are there days when you just can't get that rhythm?
Of course. Who knows, maybe some days it's biorhythms, but I think generally days when you have bad rhythm is when you have tired legs. Your legs are really the whole driving force to shooting. Rhythm is easy when you got your legs underneath you.

I know you're working on the Terry Fox film. Tell us the story behind that.
Terry's a huge hero in Canada; he's a part of our cultural fabric. He's had schools named after him, streets, a mountain, a day. He's an amazingly inspirational figure in our history, and I think it's a story that's been largely either forgotten or untold in the States. Terry was in college in '77, 18 years old, and he was a great high school athlete, a JV basketball player at Simon Fraser University. He had a sore knee, so finally he went to the doctor. The doctor did some tests, and they told him he had bone cancer and in five days they'd have to amputate his leg six inches above the knee. This would be an incredible situation for anyone, but especially a committed athlete. So he spent a year or so in chemo and playing wheelchair basketball and finding the right prosthesis, and he finally started running. His high school coach brought in a magazine article of a guy with a prosthetic leg who had run the New York Marathon. I think that was something where he just grabbed on to it and was like, You know what, this isn't a death sentence. I'm gonna go out there and be more committed and do more amazing things, because this is an opportunity to help people. So he had it in his head, he was going to run across Canada. And he started training, he didn't tell anyone at first, then he told his best friend and started telling his family, and they were reluctantly supportive and he raised some resources, a trailer, plane tickets, gas money. He and his best friend flew into St. John's, Newfoundland and, without a publicist or the Internet, they told anyone who would listen that he was going to run across Canada for cancer research. I think it was because he spent all that time with those little kids—he was in the children's cancer ward, and watching what they went through inspired him to do something special. So he set off running, and basically he ran 143 marathons in a row, on one leg—one real leg. He faced a lot, starting out in the cold, the wind, the very hilly Eastern Provinces. The sores on his nub were the type of thing that would have most people out of commission for weeks, and he'd run a marathon a day on it, blood sometimes streaming down his prosthesis. And he picked a whole nation up. I was six, and I remember every day of that summer, waking up and turning on the TV to find out where Terry was that day, and see if he was still going. And you know, he picked us all up, he brought us together. And he broke our hearts ultimately. Two days before I went back to school, in September, he ran his full 26 and he just struggled the last three—and he knew. He had told his brother, "Drive me to the hospital," and his brother was like "Ankle? Knee? What's bothering you?" and he just said "Just take me to the hospital." They both knew. As I do more research, I'm finding out that he wouldn't get his checkups very regularly because he didn't want to know; it really made him nervous, and he just wanted to live and wanted to do this and he didn't want someone to stop him before his time. He had to stay healthy, he was going to go and run through it, he'd made up his mind. And he got two tumors in both lungs and he stopped, and six months later he passed away. But he ran the equivalent of two-thirds of the way across Canada, and it was just an amazing physical feat, and mental and emotional. I just can't imagine what it would take to do that every day.

So he really inspired you as a kid.
He totally inspired me as a kid. He inspired all of us in Canada and beyond. I mean, millions of people have done the Terry Fox run in Cuba, for example. In Cuban culture it was very taboo to get cancer, and if someone died of cancer, or had cancer, they were "sick"; if they died, they were "sick." If it's taboo to have it, you're probably not going to get checkups, you're not going to seek treatment, and he changed all that, because people in Cuba saw the story of this guy who ran across Canada on one leg because of his cancer, and the strength of spirit that he had, and it changed the culture in Cuba… And in China, Japan, Europe, countries all over the world still to this day do the Terry Fox run. He's had a major impact, and I think there's an absolutely direct correlation between me wanting to have a foundation, wanting to help people, and the fact that I had someone like Terry Fox to look up to as a kid.

Where are you in the production?
We're in pre-production. We're basically just about to start going over hours and hours of footage and finding clips we like, interviews, and we're basically going to build a story. And then during the season, on the road and on the plane, my cousin [music-video director Ezra Holland] and I are just going to build a shell of a story, then decide what we want to shoot after the season, who we want to interview, where we want to go, what we want to do, and just tell this great story that tells itself. It will air in April 2010.

Do you think filmmaking might really be something you do after you retire?
Yeah. … In some ways I'm in film school now, just learning and practicing … My cousin's been a director making commercials and music videos for about five years. We just have a great working relationship, so we just joined forces. We just like being creative, making things, coming up with ideas and seeing them through, and having fun with it. It's a really fun outlet for us.

Who else was an inspiration for you when you were growing up?
Well, Wayne Gretzky, tons of soccer players, people in my community … honestly, my parents. When I was a youngster I obviously mostly looked up to athletes because that's all I did, but you know, there's a lot of inspiration out there, there's inspiration out there in everyone.

Who's an inspiration for you today?
The Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson are extremely inspirational … They get you going, they make you want to live and learn and get involved. … I think Obama's inspiring. But there's so many people nowadays that are doing so many great, unheralded things around the world for people … It's not far away, and I think sometimes it's underappreciated. People want conflict and controversy—the media looks for that, because there's so many outlets, it's more competitive these days, but I don't think it's truthful. I think there's a lot of people doing a lot of things that don't necessarily share the spotlight with the controversy.

For Will Palmer's profile of Steve Nash, pick up a copy of the March issue, on newsstands now.

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