By Greg Beacham, The Associated Press
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Victoria’s Steve Nash played through pain and injury for essentially his entire career. Until last fall, he really thought he could do it again for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The two-time MVP point guard finally surrendered to his back woes last weekend after 19 years in the NBA.
And though Nash now says his three-year stint with the Lakers was “a failure and also a huge disappointment,” he’ll settle into life after basketball in Los Angeles with warm feelings for the teammates and fans who supported him in his unsuccessful quest.
“I came here with huge hopes and dreams, and was incredibly humbled and excited to come here and play for the Lakers,” Nash said Tuesday at the team’s training complex.
“It’s been a difficult period of my career and my life, to battle through that and to try to make something of it, which was fruitless in the end. I know I’ve never wanted something more, and I’ve never worked harder. It just wasn’t to be.”
The 41-year-old Canadian icon confirmed the long-anticipated end of his 19-year NBA career three days earlier. He didn’t play at all this season after emerging from his first pre-season game in excruciating pain, forcing him to confront his basketball mortality.
“I really thought I was going to get through this year,” Nash said. “I think I had to feel that way. I did everything I possibly could.”
Nash raged against his balky back and the merciless calendar for every month of his tenure with the Lakers.
With constant treatment and twice-daily workouts, he thought he could stave off the damage of a lifetime long enough to contend for an NBA title in the 2012-13 season alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and fellow newcomer Dwight Howard.
When that dream imploded after he broke his leg in his second game, Nash focused simply on getting healthy long enough to give the Lakers something for his three-year, $27 million contract, which also cost the club four draft picks.
Instead, he played just 65 games in three seasons with the Lakers. He could only play 15 games last season, and his decision not to retire last summer cost the Lakers nearly $10 million in salary cap room.
“It was just so much fighting every day with myself, with my body,” Nash said. “Training twice a day and trying to get over the hump. Getting to some really good places and have it diminish so quickly.
“There was a lot of stress and anxiety that came with that. In the end, I don’t know if that clouded my judgment and made me think, ‘I can do this and I’m going to get there,’ but in the end it became pretty clear. The decision was sort of made for me.”
Nash’s back still bothers him every day, but he can live a relatively normal life with his girlfriend and his three children. He can even play soccer and swing a golf club â€” something that infuriated a section of Lakers fans when they saw his activities on social media late last year.
“I get it,” Nash said. “Fans don’t know the whole picture, so I get that they’re passionate, especially online. There’s a bit of a pack mentality, and I feel bad for our kids that they’re going to grow up in that world, but I don’t have a real problem with that. I’m not saying it’s awesome.”
Although Nash is done playing, he said he would be glad to continue a mentoring role for Lakers rookie Jordan Clarkson and other players. He also is willing to help out the Lakers when they’re recruiting free agents this summer.
Nash isn’t moving back to Canada or Phoenix in retirement. His kids are in school in Los Angeles, and he has grown to love Southern California living â€” away from the court, at least.
“I’m going to stay in L.A. with my kids and make this home forever, hopefully,” Nash said. “I know there’s been a lot of negativity online, but people in Los Angeles have been incredible to me. I’ve never had anyone say a negative thing to me in person, and in fact, the amount of support I’ve gotten for the effort and the constant fight to get back on the court has been incredibly touching.”