“If I can teach him some of the things I did to create space and get shots off and make my teammates better at 6-2, it can only help him at his height.”
Durant, in return, refers to Nash as “my Yoda,” as we learned via the “Still KD” documentary released in July.
Nash typically spends only a few days a month with the Warriors in his role as a player development consultant, but he’s as close to Durant as anyone in the organization. They were introduced late in Nash’s playing career by the Brooklyn Nets assistant Adam Harrington — one of Nash’s former teammates in Dallas — and started building a friendship long before Durant made the polarizing (and landscape-changing) decision to leave Oklahoma City for the Bay Area in July 2016.
Golden State’s coach, Steve Kerr, and Kerr’s assistant Bruce Fraser are two more of Nash’s closest friends, which helps feed into what Nash, a two-time most valuable player, describes as an “intimate understanding” of how the N.B.A.’s reigning champions and prohibitive 2018 title favorites operate, no matter how rarely he actually shares their company.
Feel was always a Nash specialty, knowing precisely where to probe the defense or where his passing targets wanted the ball. So when he tells you that he knows where he belongs in the Warriors’ world and where he doesn’t, you buy in immediately.
It is Nash’s contention, along these lines, that he shouldn’t be featured as part of Golden State’s ring and banner ceremony on Tuesday night before their season opener at home against the Houston Rockets. The Warriors’ general manager, Bob Myers, and their relentless vice president of communications, Raymond Ridder, made it clear to Nash, 43, in recent days that he would indeed be receiving the championship ring that eluded him as a player. So, naturally, they wanted him to join Durant, Stephen Curry and the rest of the squad for the televised festivities before tipoff.
As of Monday evening, Nash was holding firm on his determination to decline.
“This is their moment,” Nash said in a phone interview. “I couldn’t be happier to be part of a championship team and, more importantly, this championship culture.
“But when you’ve played 18 years in the N.B.A. and you win it all as a consultant, it doesn’t feel right to do anything but stay in the background. I don’t want to disrespect anything or upset anyone, but I don’t feel like it’s my place to be there.”
Kerr understands. He’s not surprised by Nash’s stance and isn’t trying to talk him out of it. He insists that Nash, whose later years in Phoenix became synonymous with playoff heartbreak, is far from haunted by his lack of championship jewelry, even if basketball stars, maybe more than anyone else in the team-sports realm, are judged almost exclusively on titles won.
“I don’t think Steve, for one second, looks back on his career and thinks, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t win a ring,’ ” said Kerr, who won five in his playing days as an off-the-bench contributor in Chicago and San Antonio. “He has such great work-life balance. John Stockton’s the same. Charles Barkley’s the same. Is there any happier guy out there than Barkley? You can tell he’s having so much fun on TV.”
Kerr added: “I think fans and the media kind of overrate that whole ring thing. I would trade my career for Nash’s in a heartbeat. Would I want to be a role player on championship teams or be a superstar like Steve was and dominate games and seasons?”
In his post-playing life, Nash is a busy father of four in Los Angeles who also serves as the general manager for the men’s senior national team in his native Canada. What’s left of his time, away from family and business interests, is reserved for Durant or any other Warriors player who feels they can benefit from his counsel, as well as providing unfiltered feedback on the team to Kerr from what they like to call “the 30,000-foot view.”
“I actually like that he’s not here every day,” Kerr said. “Sometimes as a staff we fall into groupthink. Steve will usually tell me something I haven’t thought of.
“The other thing is that Steve can go to Kevin or Steph and talk to them as a former superstar who’s been in their shoes. I can’t do that. He was a two-time M.V.P. He’s literally lived their life. I didn’t live their life as a player; I lived Ian Clark’s life.”
Clark, now in New Orleans after two seasons as an underrated backcourt wild card in the Warriors’ rotation, will have to wait to collect his ring until late November, when the Pelicans visit Oracle Arena. Roughly 25 members of the Golden State organization, including front-office staffers and coaches, are scheduled to be honored as part of Tuesday’s program. The first-time ring winners, as always, will likely generate the most curiosity over their reactions.
We’re talking JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West. And, of course, Durant, whose decision to team up with three fellow All-Stars in Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson brought him mostly scorn — until he rose above every ace on both sides, including LeBron James, in Golden State’s five-game demolition of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals.
“He took a lot of heat for his decision, so it hasn’t always been easy, but he was at his best when it counted most and I think he’s handled it all on the court incredibly well,” Nash said of Durant. “He made a life choice to go somewhere else and put himself in a new environment and challenge himself. It’s been fantastic for him as a man and winning a championship on top of it was the fruit of that decision.”
Asked to project what the coming season holds for the 29-year-old Durant after his title breakthrough, Nash used a word more typically reserved these days for Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo or the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis.
“We talk about some of these young players being unicorns,” Nash said. “What Kevin can do at his size, with his athleticism, with his skill set, with his agility — he’s a true unicorn.”
A unicorn who will soon be sporting gaudy bling from a Beverly Hills jeweler.
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