PHOENIX — Steve Nash invited all of his Phoenix Suns teammates up to the podium when he accepted the NBA’s most valuable player award Sunday.
The gesture was befitting of a player who earned the trophy by getting everybody involved, and making his team a 62-game winner — 33 more victories than the previous season.
“I really just want to share this with my teammates,” Nash said. “This has been an incredible year for me and for our team. For me to come to a new situation and be accepted the way I’ve been by these guys, and for us to be able to form the bond that we have, it’s been special.”
The Suns point guard edged Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal by 34 points to win the award, the fourth-closest margin since the media began determining the winner in 1980-81.
The outcome was first reported Friday, but the official announcement Sunday detailed the balloting by a panel of 127 sports writers and broadcasters in the United States and Canada.
Nash is from Victoria, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island, and is the first Canadian to win the NBA’s MVP award.
“It’s an incredible oddity in many ways,” Nash said. “My neighborhood didn’t have any NBA players. I was offered one scholarship. Obviously hockey is the first, second and third story in our country, so to be here is very unlikely.
“At the same time I think that makes it a great accomplishment for me to kind of cherish because there were a lot of obstacles for me just to be a professional basketball player.”
Nash, 31, was drafted by Phoenix as the No. 15 pick overall out of Santa Clara in 1996. Two years later, with Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd playing ahead of him, he asked for a trade and was sent to Dallas. The deal included the draft choice that the Suns used to get Shawn Marion.
Just after last season, the Suns loaded a charter jet with team officials, new owner Robert Sarver, coaches and players and went to Dallas to try to persuade Nash to sign a free agent deal with Phoenix.
“We went there with one purpose and that was to come back with Steve Nash,” Suns chairman Jerry Colangelo said.
Nash agreed to a five-year, $65 million contract, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t match it.
Combining the ever-creative Nash with the Suns’ array of fleet sharpshooters, and with Amare Stoudemire the perfect target for Nash inside, Phoenix stunned the NBA with a 31-4 start. The camaraderie that developed was evident in the news conference Sunday, when Nash, known for his wardrobe of mostly torn jeans and sweat shirts, was kidded by his teammates about the dress shirt he wore untucked with blue jeans the minute he walked in the room.
“As coaches, we really try to preach team first,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said, “share the basketball, do whatever it takes to win. ... He made his teammates better, his teammates made him a lot better. Everyone’s having career years here, and 62 wins and 20 losses mean something.”
D’Antoni could be on the podium again on Tuesday, when the NBA coach of the year award is announced. The East Valley Tribune of Mesa, citing an NBA source speaking on condition of anonymity, reported Sunday that D’Antoni would win the coach of the year award. Colangelo would not confirm it, but offered a hint by saying he planned to be back on Tuesday.
In the MVP voting, players received 10 points for a first-place vote, seven for second, five for third, three for fourth and one for fifth.
Nash received 65 first-place votes to O’Neal’s 58. The NBA assist leader at 11.5 a game, Nash is the sixth guard to win the award, joining Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson.
Nash is the first player to lead the league in assists (11.5) and be named MVP since Johnson in 1987, and the second Phoenix player to win the award. The other was Charles Barkley in 1993.
Nash was asked what he thought when looked at the names “Magic, Bird and Shaq, then Steve Nash” on the MVP list.
“Who does not belong?, I guess” he joked.
Then he turned serious.
“It’s incredible,” Nash said. “I’m there with my heroes. Like Jerry said, it’s been a long road for me. Actually I just feel really proud to accomplish this by playing as a team, and by just trying to be a good teammate.”