Just over five years since his retirement as a player, and two years after his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Steve Nash is returning to coach the National Basketball Association’s (NBA’s) Brooklyn Nets.
Nash will begin immediately, although the Nets will not play until next year due to their elimination in the first round of the playoffs this season.
Nash is well known amongst basketball fans and the general public for his several accolades in the sport, but the Sept. 3 announcement still came as a surprise, and with some criticism of his lacking experience in coaching.
The Nets have been searching for a coach since the firing — or “mutual parting” — of Vince Atkinson in March 2020. Assistant Coach Jacques Vaughn held the position in the interim and coached the team through their one playoff series this year. Leading stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving reportedly had significant sway with management over the choice of coach. Durant’s friendly relationship with Nash is no secret, formed during Nash’s role as a consultant for Durant’s former team, the Golden State Warriors.
As a player from 1996 to 2015, Nash was famous for his shooting. He is still eighth in 3-point shooting average, and held the best free throw shooting average ever until he was surpassed by Steph Curry in 2018. He is a two-time NBA MVP, eight-time NBA All-Star, and, a Canadian citizen, was voted Canada’s male athlete of the year three times, as well as Canada’s best athlete of the year overall in 2005. His only NBA championship win was during his consultant role with the Warriors in 2017.
Unfortunately, Nash never won a championship with Canada’s Olympic basketball team; Canada’s only gold medal came at a university-level tournament in 1983, and the country qualified for only a single Olympic Games during Nash’s career. This single appearance propelled Nash to national fame as a result of his stand-out individual performance.
While his pedigree as a player is unopposed, some have challenged his appointment due to his lack of coaching experience. Prominent ESPN commentator and host Stephen A. Smith, while defending Nash’s skill and character, claimed white privilege earned Nash the job.
“If anybody deserves this opportunity, absent the experience he has as a coach, it is him,” Smith said on ESPN segment First Take. “[But] there is no way around this — this does not happen for a Black man,” Smith said. “No experience as a coach on any level as a coach and you get the Brooklyn Nets Job?”
Smith, a Black man, listed NBA assistant coaches Tyronn Lue, Mark Jackson, and Sam Cassel, all Black men who he believed had the experience and success required for the job. “Why is it that we need to be twice as good to get half as much?” Smith asked.
Nash’s only experience in the front office is his consultation gig with the Warriors and a tenure as general manager for the Canadian senior national team. Other personalities and former NBA players Charles Barkley and Richard Jefferson — both Black men — countered Smith, with Jefferson saying, “sometimes it is about basketball.”
Nash’s hiring is part of a series of moves in the past few years to turn the declining fortunes of the franchise around, including the acquisition of aforementioned stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant this season. The Nets have not won a championship since joining the NBA in 1976. The team has not proceeded past the first round of the playoffs since 2014, missing the playoffs entirely in three of those years.