Thursday, November 03, 2005

No! I'm A Social Democrat!!!

In the November issue of Esquire magazine, Chuck Klosterman has a nice piece on Phoenix Suns point guard—and reigning NBA MVP—Steve Nash. The article is entitled “The Karl Marx of the Hardwood.” I couldn’t find a link to the article anywhere online, which is unfortunate, because it reveals not only the intelligence of "Little Sexy", but also his basketball philosophy. Nash definitely thinks about the game of basketball, and his cerebral approach is refreshing. Klosterman’s thesis is that Nash approaches the game of basketball like a socialist/communist (he intermingles the two terms, which seems so American), preferring to share the wealth on the court (by passing rather than shooting) to achieve long term gain (success on the scoreboard). It is an interesting argument, and one that Nash doesn’t try and deny. John Wooden would be proud.

“I suppose there are a lot of connections between socialism and basketball,” Nash says when I raise the Red flag. “But none of them are conscious when I’m on the court. I don’t even like to use the word philosophy when describing what I do for a living; I don’t want to glorify the idea of playing basketball. But if you give of yourself, you do get things back. Sometimes that’s tangible, and sometimes that’s intangible. It’s more like gambling. When you gamble, you try to give yourself the best possible odds of success. My goal is to increase the odds of success for each player on the floor, but without negating the odds of success for everyone else in the process.”

“With someone like Amare,” he says of Amare Stoudemire, the brightest Sun, “I typically want to give him the ball with some space. You can give him the ball on the block in an isolation situation and he’ll usually score. He’s very capable. But that makes the entire offense lean on him. If I give him the ball in space and force guys to run at him, we become impossible to guard. He suddenly has more options, and everyone’s odds of success improve.”

“There is a lot of id in the NBA,” says Nash, a sociology major when he attended Santa Clara University. “There is a tremendous amount of ego, and there are economic issues that are predicated on statistical analysis, which is really wrong. The successful teams—San Antonio, Detroit—are the ones that are able to overcome the relationship between personal statistics and financial success. And that’s really the goal.”

Klosterman spends some time talking about the death of the true point guard and the rise of the Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury scoring point guards. Nash’s success is that he eschews such a philosophy. The guy certainly can score when he wants to (Klosterman points to his post-season numbers against the Spurs last year) but ultimately the team will not be a success. Klosterman pokes at Nash’s collectivist theories, pointing to his being a fan of soccer and a born and raised Canadian. Without knowing much of anything about Nash, I would argue that both of these factors indeed do seem to play a part in his weltanschauung. Soccer is a game that is highly dependent upon teamwork and sharing the ball, and a more liberal attitude towards the world (and consequently the basketball court) does fit the Canadian type/stereotype. This holds especially true for a kid raised on Vancouver Island. What is left out of the piece, however, something which I thought of immediately when reading it, is the possible impact of hockey on Nash’s approach to basketball. Nash is thirty. As such, he would have been witness—perhaps even a bruised witness if he was a Canucks fan—to the selfless dominance of Wayne Gretzky during the 80’s and 90’s. Gretzky, like Nash, was a guy who could score whenever he wanted to. But Gretzky’s success, and ultimate glory, lay in what he gave to others, not in what he kept for himself. I have no idea if Nash is even a hockey fan, but the parallels between his thought and the approach of Gretzky struck me as being more than coincidental.

Anyways, pick up a copy of the November issue of Esquire while you still can. The magazine is always great, and Klosterman always delivers.


At 9:16 AM, Blogger Kevin Kimmis said...

For you local yokels, the article was also in the Focus section of Sunday's Edmonton Journal. Worth a look, for certain.


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