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Steve Nash, whose marvellous NBA career likely came to an end on Thursday, was entirely his own creation.

Tallish, but not tall. Strongish, but not strong. Athletic, but unathletically so. Everything he accomplished was the result of will. The real trick was in making it all look so effortless.

"If every basketball player worked as hard as I do, I would be out of a job," Nash once said.

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No one did. And so Nash – a gawky point guard from Victoria – was able to carve out for himself the unlikeliest Hall of Fame career in professional basketball history.

He's 40 years old and plagued by injury. On Thursday night, the Los Angeles Lakers announced that back troubles would cost him the entire 2014-15 season. He'd already said that this was probably his last go-round. It's not over, but it's sort of over.

For the generation that grew up watching Nash as he progressed from U.S. college to the pros, he represented a conceptual break with what we thought of as an Canadian athlete.

Canadians played hockey. The few who didn't play hockey were sprinters. Canadians did not play glamour sports down south. If they did, they weren't any good. Wayne Gretzky aside, they were not names.

Nash willed himself out of Canada, securing a spot at unheralded Santa Clara. It was the only school that wanted him. He dribbled a tennis ball to and from class, trying to improve his handle. He worked himself obsessively.

He also began a long association with the Canadian senior team. Over the years, Nash would piggyback the national program into something that resembled relevance. He managed it almost entirely by himself.

By his final year at Santa Clara, he'd become a figure of fascination – a dorky-looking Canadian kid in a comically oversized uniform who didn't have much by way of speed, and nothing by way of defence.

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But he could shoot. Nash's release is a mechanical marvel – kinetic perfection. Imperturbable and – crucially – endlessly repeatable. No one has ever shot with his precision. He'll leave the game as the NBA's all-time leader in free-throw percentage (.904), and ninth in three-point percentage (.428).

He was drafted in the mid-first round by the Phoenix Suns. Suns fans in the draft hall booed the pick. The Suns buried him behind Kevin Johnson and, later, the other great point guard of that generation, Jason Kidd.

Being Canadian, Nash didn't complain about limited minutes. Also being Canadian, no one in the Suns organization bothered to figure out if he was actually any good.

He was poached by Dallas, who gambled on the potential. Still, he didn't play anything like a full season until he was 26 years old – already cresting the career hill in point-guard terms.

He was good for the Mavericks, but never great. As he approached 30, he had fashioned himself into that cursed thing – a dependable careerist.

Watching him, that was more than enough. Steve Nash was doing what no other contemporary Canadian could do in the NBA: be average enough to hang on.

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He wanted to re-sign in Dallas, but they thought he was too old to offer a major deal. This was in 2004. With two zeros and a four.

He returned to Phoenix, who'd long since recognized their mistake. Slotted into a frenetic running offence that took advantage of his court vision and superlative pick-and-roll skills, Nash suddenly became the best player in basketball.

He won his first MVP award that year – the first Canadian to do it. More impressively, he was only the third point guard to manage it.

Between 2005 and 2010, while Nash edged into his mid-30s, he was the most consistently excellent performer in the game. (In a perfect Canadian touch, he would only win one Lou Marsh Award as this country's top athlete – in '04, before he began that run).

He won a second MVP. Predictably, people grumbled.

Years later, Shaquille O'Neal would growl, "Steve Nash is my boy, but I don't see how the [expletive] he got it twice."

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He got it by trying. No one tried harder. No one pushed more. He was a silky, cerebral player as well as the clichéd swan – elegant on the surface, paddling like mad underneath the water.

His signature moment was a war with the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 Western Conference final.

The Spurs ruthlessly targeted the head of the snake – Nash. He was bloodied and bruised. Robert Horry nearly killed him with a late-game body check into the scorer's table – the most typically Canadian image of Nash's career.

That was the peak. He was a kid out of the back of beyond (by U.S. standards) playing hockey on the hardcourt. He was the best player in the world. He was on the cusp of glory. And then he wasn't.

The Suns lost that series. That felt like the closest they'd ever get to an NBA final. Nash would continue on for several seasons in Arizona, but the team was falling apart around him.

He finally decided to leave in 2012. The Toronto Raptors wanted him badly. Nash was interested. But he was more interested in finally getting the ring that would solidify his legacy. So he chose the Lakers. That decision, and the team around him, blew up.

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His body has been slowly betraying him for the better part of two seasons. As with so many greats who have unfinished business with the game, Nash refused to see the truth of it. It's nearly impossible to imagine him going on now.

He needn't worry. His legacy is secure. His longevity and class secured it.

That's the American bit. But he means much more to us.

He didn't put this country on the basketball map. He drew the map. He changed the way a great many people in the wider world see us. Nash made Canada cool.

He was, in his sizable corner of the culture, the most crucial Canadian of the last quarter century.

Some great athletes reimagine a game. Nash reimagined a country.

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