LOS ANGELES >> Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash announced his retirement Saturday, quietly ending a 19-year NBA career that included two MVP awards.
After playing in just 65 games over the past three seasons due to injuries, the 41-year-old Canadian playmaker formalized his departure with a letter on The Players’ Tribune, a website where he is a senior producer.
“I will likely never play basketball again,” wrote Nash, who hasn’t played at all this season. “It’s bittersweet. I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else.”
The eight-time All-Star is third in NBA history with 10,335 assists, trailing only John Stockton and Jason Kidd. Nash also is the best free-throw shooter in NBA history at 90.4 percent, barely edging Mark Price.
While thanking a lengthy list of former teammates and influential mentors in his letter, Nash wrote of his lifelong love for basketball and his relentless desire for improvement.
“The greatest gift has been to be completely immersed in my passion and striving for something I loved so much — visualizing a ladder, climbing up to my heroes,” Nash wrote. “The obsession became my best friend.”
Although his career wound down awkwardly with the Lakers, Nash will be remembered for his incredible prime with the Phoenix Suns. The speedy, sharp-shooting point guard changed the professional game and won the league MVP awards in 2005 and 2006 during a dominant stretch as the catalyst for coach Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense.
“It will always hurt that Phoenix Suns fans didn’t get the championship they deserved during our run,” said Nash, who spent 10 seasons in Phoenix during two tenures with the team.
“Yes, we had some bad luck, but I always look back at it and think, ‘I could’ve made one more shot, or not forced a turnover, or made a better pass.’ But I don’t regret anything. The arena was always sold out and rocking. It was the time of my life.”
Nash was born in South Africa, but grew up in British Columbia and starred in college at Santa Clara. After starting his NBA career with two quiet years in Phoenix, he rose to prominence with the Dallas Mavericks during the 2000-01 season alongside Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki, reaching the Western Conference finals.
After re-signing with Phoenix, Nash and D’Antoni led the Suns to the conference finals again, but repeatedly fell short of the NBA finals in painful fashion. Nash led the NBA in assists five times in seven seasons while scoring at least 14.7 points per game in each year, and he became one of just 10 players in league history to win consecutive MVP awards.
Nash’s success led to a proliferation of the sport in Canada, which has produced a stream of top-level players who grew up watching his success. Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins were the top picks in the last two NBA drafts.
Nash never had success with the Lakers, who mortgaged their future to sign him to a $28 million contract in 2012, trading four draft picks to Phoenix in a bid to build a championship team around Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
Nash, whose health problems began in Phoenix, agreed to the move so he could chase his first championship while still living fairly close to his three children with his ex-wife.
But Nash struggled with injuries in Los Angeles from his second game, when he broke a bone in his left leg. After managing just 15 games last season, a persistent back problem prevented Nash from suiting up at all this year, making his retirement a long-expected formality.
“When I signed with the Lakers, I had big dreams of lifting the fans up and lighting this city on fire,” Nash wrote. “I turned down more lucrative offers to come to L.A. because I wanted to be in the ‘fire,’ and play for high risk and high reward in my last NBA chapter. In my second game here, I broke my leg and nothing was the same.”
Nash remembers a standing ovation from Staples Center fans when he returned to the court last spring as “one of my best memories.”
Nash has said he agreed to delay the announcement of his retirement last fall because the Lakers hoped to have a chance to trade his expiring contract for assets at the trade deadline last month. Nash is making $9.7 million this season, and his deal counts against the struggling Lakers’ salary cap.
Nash, a part-owner of MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps, hasn’t decided what he’ll do now that basketball isn’t his primary pursuit and muse.
“Obviously, I value my kids and my family more than the game,” Nash said. “But in some ways having this friend — this ever-present pursuit — has made me who I am, taught me and tested me, and given me a mission that feels irreplaceable. I am so thankful. I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons about myself and about life. And of course I still have so much to learn.”