Professional athletes are different from you and I, and not only in the sense that it's enjoyable to watch them play sports (it's alternately poignant and comic to watch you or me in a pick-up game). When Steve Nash, professional athlete, marshals a fast break, even surrounded by those off-brand humps on whom he’s spent his past few seasons conferring an illusion of competence, his every dribble is loaded with an urgent promise—something surprising, an invisible pathway or experimental geometry is perpetually just a moment from revealing itself. Nash is, even in his late-30s decline, still perhaps the most compelling point guard in basketball; pretty much anyone else attempting to run and dribble a basketball at the same time looks like a toddler running up a down escalator. Some things are best left to the professionals.
Which is fine, really. Nash can handle the freakishly present, poised athletic stuff, and the rest of us will hold down our end, which is Eating Poorly and Trying to Find a Way to Somehow Categorize Watching A&E's Storage Wars as Exercise. That generosity—Nash gives of himself and his talent, to the point where he lived near Phoenix for fuck's sake, just that we might borrow a buzz from his transcendence while eating a big pile of bacon—is reason enough to appreciate his work. That he also seems like a good-natured, public-spirited, and recognizable human being in a sport whose other stars tend towards brittle grandiosity and Drake-ish lonesome-millionaire narcissism, is admirable, too. All of which makes it that much harder to accept that Steve Nash will spend his next couple of years playing basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nash's reasons for signing with the Lakers are all reasonable enough—they're a good team in a nice city that will pay him millions of dollars to do what he does, and they also offered the divorced father of two the opportunity to play closer to his young kids than any other (competitive) team could. The unreasonable thing, here, is the Los Angeles Lakers. They're one of the NBA's greatest organizations—and, just behind the impossible and hilarious Utah Jazz, one of the most ridiculously named—but the Lakers are also the basketball equivalent of the appallingly sybaritic New York Yankees, which is to say that they're a reflection and a favorite of their city's most inexcusable rich people.
The Steinbrenners—the bellowing Nixonian turds who own the Yankees—are basically loud-and-proud Republican variations on Back To The Future II's future Biff Tannen. That is, they're embodiments of the worst people in New York: wine-toothed moneybags making a scene in some steakhouse or other, yowling about their fucking summer homes and Obama, and being dicks to the waiters. The Buss family, which owns the Lakers, also features a Steinbrennerian predilection for turtlenecks, at least as far as the team's Robert Evans-ian, starlet-skeeving patriarch/owner Jerry Buss is concerned. Where the Yankees exemplify the coarse, crass aspects of New York's ostensible moneyed class—the ones pinching waitress-ass at the Yankees in-stadium steakhouse—the Lakers do their own West Coast version, with a front row that's a Cialis-juiced murderer's row of reptilian, perpetually-sunglassed Hollywood creeps and jumped-up/over-leveraged, flat-brimmed Orange County broheims. Neither is exactly admirable, or really all that remotely admirable, but both represent something.
And none of that really seems to represent Steve Nash. This isn't his problem, of course: his job is to play basketball as well as he can for whichever organization is willing to pay him; as a free agent, he’s had his choice of organizations. If Nash could do that for nearly a decade in the psychotic sun-baked methscape of Phoenix while on the payroll of odious leatherette affluence-nightmare Robert Sarver, he surely can do it with a clean conscience in a city that's actually pretty nice, if on the payroll of a guy who probably has stories about fingering Rene Russo at Spago back in 1987. But for a player who represents the best of basketball in a bunch of ways—in Nash's general consciousness and sense of humor, in the insane astuteness and awesome generosity of his on-court virtuosity—to join a team that defines the most decadent, dessicated celebritized shittiness of the NBA feels… well, it feels like a business decision.
Which, really, is what it was, give or take the totally human access-to-my-kids issue, which is totally Steve Nash's business and totally fine. Nash, and Nash alone, chose, for his own reasons, to have as a backup the Juggalo-faced Steve Blake. He chose to spend his working hours dealing with Tracy Morgan-faced Faulknerian manchild/big man Andrew Bynum, and frankly pathological Tom Cruise-ian fame-monster/sad nut Kobe Bryant. Nash is the one who will deal with late night can-you-listen-to-this-rap-I-just-wrote phone calls from Metta World Peace and endless in-huddle debates about La Liga with Pau Gasol. Jack Nicholson will invite Nash, repeatedly and during games, to "cruise trim" with him. Nash may well win a title with these jokers, too. For those of us who tend to see the NBA in terms of Heroes and Archetypes and Symbols and such, there's probably a lesson in the plain logic of all this. It won't make it any less weird to see one of the NBA's truest good guys suit up for one of the league's defining villains, but that's less on him than it is us. At the very least, we can know that it'll probably be strange for all of us.
Previously - Welcome to the NBA Draft