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Steve Nash: ‘A white guy from Canada with swag’

Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce talks about his friendship with Hall of Famer and former teammate Steve Nash


As Steve Nash enters the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce shares about his friendship with his former college backcourt mate.

I thought I knew all about basketball … until I met Stephen Nash.

A good teammate is about sacrifice, support and, ultimately, commitment. I learned about this on my trip to Santa Clara University (SCU) in the fall of 1993, when I was hosted by Marlon “Money G” Garnett (currently an assistant coach on my staff with the Atlanta Hawks) and Stephen “Nashty” Nash. After multiple team events, campus partying and other forms of persuading a 17-year-old to attend their school — mind you, SCU is a very distinguished Jesuit Catholic university! — we had a free afternoon.

So “Nashty” asked, “What would you like to do now?”

Being a pretty bashful kid at the time, I quietly stated that I would like to head 10 minutes south to my high school (Yerba Buena High School in San Jose, California) and partake in our homecoming activities.

Nashty’s response? “Let’s do it!”

Before becoming Steve Nash to the rest of the world, here he was heading to a high school homecoming game with a guy he barely spoke to for a few hours, just to show that he was in on convincing me that I should attend SCU.

Sacrifice. Support. Commitment.

Needless to say, I committed to SCU.

Fresh off winning the Central Coast Section Player of the Year in high school in 1994, I felt pretty confident about my chances of succeeding at the next level. I thought for sure I would come in and start. I thought for sure I’d be the best athlete/defender and hardest worker on the team.

I thought for sure, this would be my team … until I met Stephen Nash.

Steve Nash (second from right) helped recruit Lloyd Pierce (left) to Santa Clara University.

Lloyd Pierce

Now, I’m defending this dude from Canada with the flattop every day in practice. And his crossover game is nice! He shot 3s off the dribble effortlessly, threw the best lobs and had more swag than any player I’ve ever played with. And he backed it up. Something was just unreal about him. This guy is from British Columbia? Really? And he likes Nas’ new album, Illmatic?

I had never known a white guy from Canada with swag and mad hoop skills, and who was into hip-hop … until I met Stephen Nash!

Fast-forward about six months later. We were playing at Gonzaga, and I’m the first substitute to come off the bench behind both “Nashty” and “Money,” who was the WCC Player of the Year after Nash won it two years in a row.

Nash, with his signature “kick ahead,” hit me on the left wing on the break. One dribble, short pull-up jumper, off the glass. Count it! He greeted me with one of his signature “high-fives” (he has to lead NBA history in high-fives) and said, “Great rhythm on that jumper, LP. That was nice how you settled in and didn’t overpenetrate on that shot!”

It felt like he was my coach. More importantly, the dude meant it! He really was impressed with the subtlety of the shot. Here I was, the CCS Player of the Year, delighted by my teammate congratulating me on making a pull-up jumper! Really?

Man, I really thought I knew basketball … until I met Stephen Nash.

Steve Nash (right) showed Lloyd Pierce (left) the many sides of basketball.

Lloyd Pierce

Before player development coaches were a thing, Nashty was also that. One day, he taught me the in-and-out move. For most players, the in-and-out is created by a flutter of steps that lead to the ball handler manipulating the basketball in a “circle” of sorts, hoping to move the defender positionally. He visually explained to me how incorrect this approach was and decided to demonstrate.

While I was in a defensive ready position, he proceeded to drive at me. He bounced the ball as high as he could and as the ball was in the air, he hit me with steps, dipping his hips and “shimmy-ing” his shoulders, all with the intent of moving me off my center line. And he succeeded! Mind you, I knew the ball was not in his hands at this point, yet I continued to guard him just as he intended.

“It’s all about hips, shoulders, footwork and body readiness,” he explained.

These were all skills that he acquired playing soccer, basketball and hockey as a youth in Canada.

I really thought I knew all about basketball … until I met Stephen Nash.

A do-it-all kinda guy, Nash was just different. He just has an eternal desire to help others better themselves, himself included. And he was much more in tune with his professional approach of what he wanted to be and how to attain it than the rest of us back then!

As an NBA player, you saw all of that come to fruition. But it was his philanthropic side that was amazing to watch take off too. I had a run of nine straight years of supporting the Steve Nash Foundation’s annual event “The Showdown” in NYC. He has since shown dedication to his soccer event by creating another, Charity Shield, which is open to any soccer fan who wants to just come and play. He has trained kids individually in L.A. — get this — just because!

Nash combined his love of sport with his influence from sport to propel his commitment to providing for others.

Really, I thought I knew basketball … until I met Stephen Nash.

After five years of coaching at our alma mater, I was afforded an opportunity as a player development coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers. At the time, I personally knew three people in the NBA: current New York Knicks head coach Dave Fizdale, Rex Chapman and Nash.

I reached out to Nashty to seek advice on how to survive and advance in this league. His response?

“LP, just be yourself and you will be GREAT!”

Thanks, Nashty, now how about a bit more insight, buddy? Nope, that was it. Just be true to who you are and the people will gravitate toward you. Well, all right! His words had a profound impact on me.

Fast-forward 12 NBA coaching years, and here I am writing about the greatest point guard who I have ever played with and know. Our friendship has grown, our lives have changed and our stories get better. Whether it was celebrating on the day he announced his retirement in Venice Beach by barhopping all afternoon and night. (Let’s just say Brett Brown gave me a pass on missing shootaround the next day.) Or him attending my wedding in Philadelphia with other former teammates. Or the countless lunches and dinners throughout many of our encounters on the night before we would play each other.

He threw passes that were on time. He established ventures off the court that were about sacrifice, support and commitment. And he’s still a coach, now to his four beautiful kids; he is more committed to raising them than he was playing the game of basketball.

Sure, on Sept. 7, the Hall of Fame will recognize Nash the player, and rightfully so. Whether you look back at his two MVP seasons, leading the first-ranked offense in the NBA for nine straight years or finishing his career with the third-most assists in NBA history, he is more than deserving of a first-ballot Hall of Fame honor.

However, I’m most honored to know that the Hall of Fame is inducting one of the best teammates I have ever seen. They are welcoming one of the greatest coaches on the floor we have ever witnessed. More importantly, they are inducting a Hall of Fame person.

Congrats to my teammate, my “coach,” but more importantly, my friend.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.