Steve Nash received cheers and a smattering of boos Wednesday when he was introduced as a visiting player in Phoenix for the first time since being traded from the Suns to the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, the Phoenix faithful showered Nash with plenty of appreciation during a first-quarter timeout, as the video screen showed a highlight reel from the two-time MVP’s eight seasons with the Suns, while Diddy’s “Coming Home” blasted over the loudspeakers.
Canadian flags waved, homemade “We Love Steve” signs were held up and the majority of U.S. Airways Center gave Nash a standing ovation after taking in a video that showed off the point guard throwing alley-oop passes, swishing 3-pointers with ease and sporting a variety of haircuts.
“It was a great reception; obviously this is a very special place for me,” Nash said after finishing with 11 points and two assists in the Lakers’ 92-86 loss to the Suns. “To be in front of these incredible fans — I’m very grateful for the reception but also for my time here, which was the best years of my life.”
After seeing the Suns’ video tribute, Nash said, “Very flattering and very sweet of the organization. It was very kind of them.”
Nash was drafted by the Suns with the 15th overall pick in the 1996 draft and spent his first two seasons in Phoenix before being traded to the Dallas Mavericks. He had a big game the last time he returned to Phoenix as a visitor, racking up nine points and 14 assists on April 3, 2004, as a member of the Mavs. The Suns signed him as a free agent in 2004 and he went on to win two MVP awards.
“I really want our team to try to get a win and continue to improve,” Nash said before the game when asked if he wanted to have an impactful performance in his return Wednesday. “It has been a really up-and-down season, obviously. I hope a little bit of momentum can keep us going.”
Nash, who turns 39 in February, said he had planned to retire with the Suns before the offseason unfolded.
“I thought that’s the way it was going. I thought I would retire in Phoenix. But it’s a difficult business to make any sort of predictions like that,” Nash said. “It just became apparent in the last couple months before free agency that that wouldn’t be a home run, and that’s when other options started to become a reality. … It just felt like they wanted to perhaps go in a new direction.”
It was also a homecoming of sorts for Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who was with Nash in Phoenix from 2003-08, taking the team to two Western Conference finals.
“Sometimes you have a bunch of guys that you think everywhere should be like this and you take it for granted how they clicked and how good it was and how much fun it was to watch them every day,” D’Antoni said. “You kind of take it for granted after a while.
“You’re chasing the championship, you’re chasing this and you forget what we had was good and sometimes you should take care of it a little bit better. I probably didn’t do that.”