A dozen or so years ago, before Steve Nash’s NBA MVP seasons, a former player of mine at Harvard, Keith Webster ’87, said something to me that I still think about every now and then. Keith was a great player at Harvard: all-Ivy; 1000+ points scorer; came within a whisker, actually someone else’s guaranteed contract whisker, of making the Utah Jazz; son of a legendary coach and a student of the game. Keith also has worked the vast majority of our NTL Santa Barbara Weekend Camps the past 20 years. I consider him a very good friend.
So, circa 2000, just around the time people were really starting to be wowed by Steve Nash’s play, Keith, during a break at one of the camps, said, “you know, Coach, Steve Nash’s game reminds of me of your game, except you lack his toughness”. My first thought was: “I’m a better, more creative passer than Nash”. Second thought, the one that has stuck with me: “What’s he mean ‘lack his toughness'”? Keith is probably 3 inches taller than me and he’s got me by at least 30 lbs but I grabbed him by the neck anyway, and threw him to the ground. Well, actually, I didn’t, and couldn’t have, but would that have proved him wrong about my toughness? Didn’t I have a reputation, formed after college and in the million pick-up games I’d played since, of the guy most likely to get in a roll-on-the-floor, need-to-be-separated-from-the-other guy scrape? Furthermore, did I not utter a word, in the last pick-up game I played against Keith (a few years after he’d graduated and when I, at 39 y/o, was at my peak as a player), when he poked my crossover away and I separated my shoulder while diving for the ball so he wouldn’t get it? Not a peep came out through pain. (That shoulder still bothers me.) Wasn’t that tough? And how many times did I have to break my nose (2 and counting) to prove my toughness?
I admire Steve Nash’s shooting form. I’ve studied it and that form is what we teach at the Never Too Late Basketball Camps and Clinics: Elbow under the ball, opposite elbow up and out, shooting forearm straight as the walls around you. Up and out and follow-through. Here’s one question I’d have for Nash: did he start fights on the court in high school and college? Fights that he had no intention of finishing or continuing? I confess: My high school team had a center named Uriah Richards. He was 6’4″ maybe 6’5″ and with the hair, the ‘fro, looked 6’8″. I knew whatever I started, he’d finish; pick me up off the heap, toss me aside, and step in. Could this be what Keith meant? If so, Keith was right; I wasn’t tough but I sure liked everyone thinking so.
(He actually has said many things to me over the years that I think about every now and then – like once telling me that I had “the ugliest shot of any coach he’d ever known” to last year saying I had “perfect form on my shot from the waist up”. Note: I haven’t changed my shot since 6th grade.)