Steve Nash playfully shoots some hoops with a group of local high school kids from Byrne Creek Secondary, in a brand-new gym in the Vancouver suburbs. In one trick shot, standing on the baseline, under and behind the backboard, he sends the basketball skywards and its arcs and falls. Swish.
On Wednesday morning, in blue shorts, and a grey Kingston College T-shirt, Nash is at Fortius Sport and Health to officially inaugurate the gym of the new $61-million sports-science and athlete-development hub, for which he serves on the athlete advisory board. The centre is an ambitious and privately financed venture underwritten by mining financier Scott Cousens, aiming to bring together myriad services, elite practitioners, and elite and aspiring athletes. Nash calls the place "a centre with no peer, especially in this country."
He's also a patient. Nash's long-time physiotherapist, Rick Celebrini, is chief sport officer at Fortius, and the two men worked through a rehabilitation session earlier Wednesday morning, one in a series this spring to revive Nash's body for another season of basketball – and he turns 40 next February.
On the court with the teenagers, the Canadian basketball legend looked good, loose – which belied his actual condition. When last seen on a court, in late April, the 39-year-old limped through two playoff games as his Los Angeles Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in four. It was the grinding end of the toughest season of Nash's career, in which a fractured fibula in the second game of the year bookended the ignominious ejection from the playoffs.
There was little Nash could do to prevent the dream-team-gone-wrong Lakers from being ousted, as the guard was so clearly hindered by a wonky right hamstring, which stemmed from a right-hip injury in late March.
The success of Nash's work with Celebrini will be central to how much Nash can deliver on the court in the last two years of his three-season deal with the Lakers, especially after his poor showing this season. The 17-year veteran played his fewest regular-season games, 50, and produced his fewest assists per game, 6.7, since his Dallas days in the late 1990s. Celebrini, along with his mentor Alex McKechnie, are renowned for their innovative exercises and rehab techniques that focus on core strength – and Nash has previously credited Celebrini as one of the underpinnings of a career that will land the player in the Hall of Fame.
"Nothing went right," said Nash of his and the Lakers' season. Coming back after the fractured fibula, his fitness wasn't where it needed to be. The wear of the minutes on the court in part led to the next injury, which he then further aggravated by trying to play in the postseason – when he managed just nine assists in two games. Now, Nash estimates he will feel stronger in a month or so and be ready for the 2013-14 season. When asked about retirement, he was quick for an answer, noting he has two years left on his contract.
"I expect to play them both out and, you know, we'll see after that," Nash said. "Obviously I'll be 41 and there's a chance that could be it, a big chance. But you never know, you never know how it goes, and how I feel."
Of his more severely injured teammate, Kobe Bryant, who is out for upward of nine months with a torn Achilles, Nash had praise, and was careful with his words. Of Bryant's comeback trail, Nash said Bryant's determination is widely known and "I wouldn't put it past him to be better than ever." But when asked about the seeming chaos of the Lakers's backcourt this year, with Bryant at point guard, Nash said, diplomatically, "I think the challenge for him is finding a balance between scoring and passing."
Like Nash's prognosis for Bryant, Celebrini was confident his work would revive Nash – using "creative, adventurous" techniques – as well as taking advantage of the new facilities at Fortius.
"At 39 years old," Celebrini said, "a lot of people have written him off. Steve feeds off that, and he's absolutely committed, determined to prove people wrong. And I absolutely believe that he will. I think he's going to turn some heads."