Nash living in moment more than ever

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
9:35
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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PHILADELPHIA -- Back in the summer of 2012, both the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers felt like winners before they even won a game because of the deals they had been able to pull off.

For the Lakers, they thought they had acquired perhaps the greatest pick-and-roll tandem of all time in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard and would pair them with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to get the team back on a championship trajectory.

[+] EnlargeSteve Nash
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesSteve Nash scored 19 points on his 40th birthday to lead the Lakers to a win, admitting he wasn't sure he could get on top of his health issues.
For the Sixers, they thought they had found the missing link in their lineage of monsters in the middle, with Andrew Bynum set to pick up where Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone and Dikembe Mutombo had left off in dominating the Eastern Conference.

Both plans went woefully awry, of course.

After Bynum said, "I'm really looking forward to making this my home," at his block party-like introductory news conference, he ended up not playing a single game during the season he spent in the City of Brotherly Love.

He has since found homes in Cleveland and Indiana, and whispers of Bynum's failed marriage with Philadelphia still echoed throughout the Wells Fargo Center on Friday, with one league source sharing how Bynum would often park one of his luxury cars in the reserved space for Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast Spectacor -- the company that owns the arena where the Sixers play -- on purpose on game days. The source also passed on the story about the day Bynum showed up at the Sixers' practice facility with a police car following him into the parking lot because he had sped off from a gas station with the pump nozzle still inside of his car and the officer noticed the severed hose flapping alongside the road as Bynum merrily drove along.

Nash's Lakers legacy could have gone the way of Bynum's in Philly. After all, the team mortgaged its future by giving away four future draft picks to acquire the aging point guard, then hired Mike D'Antoni instead of Phil Jackson to maximize his talents, only to see injuries break down his body and contribute to Howard's skipping town to play with a younger backcourt in Houston.

Nash could have succumbed to the circumstances, too. He could have focused on the missed opportunity to finally capture that first championship in an 18-year career. He could have wallowed in the pain that a broken leg in only his second game as a Laker caused him over the next 16 months, as severe nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings set in and made it hard for him to live without discomfort, let alone play basketball against athletes half his age.

Instead, Nash shifted the way he viewed everything. It all became about what he did have, not what he didn't. What he had in L.A. was a chance to enjoy the final pages of the final chapter of his basketball career. What he had were young teammates to whom he could pass on some of the tricks of the trade he picked up in nearly two decades of playing at a Hall of Fame level. What he had was an opportunity to do the thing that he loves.

And so, there was Nash, smiling on his 40th birthday Friday, relishing the time spent with his teammates grinding out a 112-98 victory, rather than framing the experience with less meaning because it wasn't in the heat of a playoff race or because it came against a Sixers team that's 20 games under .500.

"After 18 years, it's very sweet," said Nash after leading the Lakers with 19 points, five assists and four rebounds, scoring the most points by a 40-year-old since Karl Malone dropped 20 for the Lakers on April 1, 2004. "I thought 'it' was gone. I didn't know that I could get on top of my health issues."

Nash's dedication to the game and his perspective has left an impact on the Lakers' locker room, despite what the standings show.

"He never ceases to amaze me," D'Antoni said. "He's 40, I'm surprised he even wants to play. It's like, 'Are you serious? You want to get out of bed and try this?' But it doesn't surprise me being the type of person he is. And I think that's what it goes to. I think he's just got a great foundation of being a great guy and a teammate and he loves to play and it just all comes out."

Said teammate Steve Blake: "We know how hard it's been on him and no one has worked harder than him to get back on the court. I think we all have respect for that and I'm definitely happy for him."

Just like the Sixers moved on from Bynum as quick as they could and now see their future through the eyes of Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, Nash let go of the disappointment of the past season and a half to embrace what he has in front of him now.

"I love the game and when you realize it's almost gone, you love it more," Nash said. "You want to make the most of what you have left because it's going to be hopefully 40 or 50 more years of not playing basketball. So, I just want to get an opportunity to feel it again, to be a part of the team, to win games on the road like tonight and enjoy the flight home. There's nothing better.

"I'm not going to be able to feel this with anything else other than being dad and I'll have a lot of things to do when I'm done playing, but nothing will quite be the same I don't think. So, knowing that, knowing the transition that's nearby, I just want to enjoy it and try to contribute and feel that one more time for however long it is."

The NBA's oldest player is living in the moment and it's giving new life to everyone around him.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
24.6 4.9 1.4 35.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.3
AssistsK. Bryant 4.9
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2