Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - We can now add nerve root irritation to
the litany of back problems that have plagued Steve Nash.
Nerve root irritation is basically exactly what it sounds like. The nerve gets
irritated by something else and causes pain in your back, legs and neck. It's
painful, but that's nothing new for Nash and his brittle back.
Nash has a condition called spondylolisthesis, which causes his back muscles
to tighten. That's why he lays with his head on a ball or towel on the
sidelines and looks sort of like that thing you hang your keys on when you
walk in the door.
Nash has endured that most of his career, but now, at 39, it's becoming fair
to ponder if Nash can effectively return from this latest malady.
The official statement from the Los Angeles Lakers says two weeks minimum, but
Nash will be re-evaluated in 10 days. He's getting an epidural, resting and
But he did all of that over the summer, not just for his balky vertebrae, but
also his leg, which he broke early last season.
Nash is already the oldest active player in the NBA. He is one of three guards
to ever win back-to-back MVP awards and the other two are Michael Jordan and
Magic Johnson, so legacy really isn't in question.
Although, it is to some extent. Nash has never won a title. He and Karl Malone
are the only multiple-winning MVPs who haven't experienced a championship
Could that be why Nash is postponing retirement?
Nash isn't really saying other than setting up a private party in the back
room of an Applebee's is premature.
Normally, in situations like these, it's wise to follow the immortal words of
Deepthroat and "follow the money." Nash is due about $19 million over the next
two seasons, but is that a deciding factor for a man who has banked over $137
million in salary alone?
It's doubtful, but not entirely dismissible. Nash has never struck a nerve as
a mercenary. Here's a guy who played a little Santa Clara when nowhere else
wanted him. He made it all the way to the NBA, and not just into the league,
he is an elite all-timer.
Again, Nash is relatively mum on the subject, but did let us peak behind the
curtain a bit on Monday.
"It's hard every day, to keep fighting uphill," acknowledged Nash. "I also
weigh it against the fact that I still love playing. I want to be part of this
group. It makes it worthwhile, but there are days it's a big challenge."
He loves playing. That could be enough of a reason.
He also still plays at a respectable level. Nash only played 50 games last
season, but averaged 12.7 ppg and 6.7 assists. Those assist numbers were down,
but last season's Lakers team was a disaster in almost every conceivable
fashion. It was the Exxon Valdez. It was "Joey." There was no continuity to
what the Lakers were doing on the floor and it showed in Nash's stat line.
The season before, while still in Phoenix, his true love, Nash averaged 12.5
points per game and 10.7 assists per game. We are less than two years removed
from that kind of production. Granted, two years is an eternity for a
professional athlete, especially when those two years get you to 39 candles on
your birthday cake, but as a third or fourth option, Nash has value.
Maybe Nash is staying around because of a sense of loyalty to the Lakers.
While the concept of loyalty is lost in today's world of professional sports,
perhaps Nash wants to reward the team that traded two first-round picks and
two second-round picks for him (side note: stupid, horrendous trade Mitch
Or maybe Nash wants to be there for head coach Mike D'Antoni. After all, it
was under D'Antoni when Nash won MVPs and took the Phoenix Suns far into the
postseason (side note: he's also the reason Nash never won a title).
Whatever the reason, Nash won't be retiring, not yet anyway. If this nerve
root irritation proves to be a game-ender, Nash will get paid, the Lakers will
survive because, if he plays fewer than 10 games this season, and league
doctors agree with the diagnosis, Nash's final year would be voided.
Nash deserves to leave on his terms. We don't like seeing athletes, especially
respected ones like Nash, who has never had a brush with the law or a bad word
said about him. Two weeks and an epidural is hardly a death sentence on a
Even for a 39-year-old.
The Sports Network