Dec. 27, 2006
Canadian Press - When it comes to Canadian athletic supremacy, Steve Nash remains the gold standard.
The year 2006 was unlike any other for Canadian athletes on the hardcourt, the baseball diamond and at the NHL rink, where for the first time, three of the "big four" pro sports named Canucks their most valuable players.
Still, no one soared higher than Nash.
The Phoenix Suns point guard capped his second straight MVP season Dec. 26 by winning the Lionel Conacher award as Canadian male athlete of the year in a survey by the Canadian Press and Broadcast News.
Nash beat out fellow MVPs Justin Morneau and Joe Thornton, finishing with 321 points and 78 first-place votes in balloting of sports editors and broadcasters across the country.
"It's incredible, I suppose. Somehow I believe though that they just pulled my name from a hat, because there's no way I'm more deserving than those guys," said the ever-humble Nash. "I imagine it was just the luck of the draw."
It marks the third time the Victoria native has won the Conacher Award, named for the all-rounder voted Canada's athlete of the half-century in 1950. Nash also captured the award in 2002 and 2005.
The Canadian female athlete of the year will be named Wednesday, followed by Canada's top team on Thursday.
Morneau, first baseman for the Minnesota Twins and the American League's most valuable player, was second with 221 points and 35 first-place votes.
Pittsburgh Penguins star forward Sidney Crosby was third with 123 points and 22 first-place votes, while Thornton of the San Jose Sharks, the reigning MVP in the NHL, was fourth with 47 points and three first-place votes.
Nash solidifies star status
With his fast-paced game of deceptive passes and all-out effort, Nash solidified his star status in 2006.
He led the Suns to a 54-28 regular-season record -- despite the loss of their leading scorer Amare Stoudemire to a devastating knee injury -- and all the way to the Western Conference final, where they were ousted in Game 6 by Nash's former team the Dallas Mavericks.
"I was proud of my team," said Nash. "It was difficult not to win [the championship], but we had a lot of injuries and at the same time, we were fairly close and probably didn't have enough bodies to go as far as we wanted to."
Nash was named a starter to the Western Conference all-star team for the first time in his career, and finished the 2005-06 season with career highs in points (18.8 per night), rebounds (4.2), field goal percentage (51.2), and free throw percentage (a league-high 92 per cent). His 10.5 assists a night also topped the league.
"As if Kid Canada had to justify his first MVP honour, he went out and one-upped himself," said Trevor Kenney, sports editor at the Lethbridge Herald.
"Without running mate Amare Stoudemire, Nash had to be even more for the Suns and raised his game to yet another level."
Could Nash win 3 MVPs in a row? Nash, 32, has extended his MVP performance to the 2006-2007 season. He sparked the Suns to a recent franchise-high 15-game winning streak -- it was snapped by the Washington Wizards -- and is averaging a league-best 11.6 assists a night, prompting hoops enthusiasts to wonder: could Nash do the unthinkable and make it three in a row?
A third MVP trophy would vault him into the lofty company of Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, the only three players in history to achieve such a feat.
The six-foot-three point guard is an unassuming gym rat with a unrivalled work ethic. Because he never stops working on his game, he continues to defy the odds, and simply gets better every season.
"We should be used to the whole Nash thing by now, but my astonishment is fresh every time I think about what he's done," said Erik Rolfsen of the Vancouver Province.
Nash rarely pauses to consider the impact he's had on the game, or the honours and awards that continue to pile up.
"I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about it, to be honest," Nash said. "I'm just busy trying to win games, and trying to get better every game and trying to be a good teammate. Just enjoying life.
"I think that I've always been an underdog and I wake up every morning with that mentality still and it doesn't allow me generally to rest on my laurels."
Nash ordinary off the court
As impressive as Nash's unselfish style is on the court, he remains an ordinary superstar off it, carrying himself with class in a league of diamonds, furs and brash bravado.
"It's remarkable to think that a relatively short kid from Canada could be named MVP in the NBA once -- never mind in back-to-back years," said Montreal Gazette sports editor Stu Cowan.
"With so many spoiled and pampered professional athletes in the world today, Nash is one of the few who can be labelled a role model. He is a great ambassador for Canada with the way he handles himself both on and off the court. He's our Wayne Gretzky."
Nash, the father of two-year-old twin girls Lola and Bella, is also generous with his time and his money. He's involved in numerous charitable activities, including helping build a hospital in Paraguay, the birthplace of his wife Alejandra Amarilla.