"I remember him almost fainting on the grass in our yard after juggling a soccer ball with his feet 625 times," says John. "At 10 years old he drilled harder than the pros do. Steve just had this drive that didn't switch off."
Nash learned, at a tender age, that it's more fun to set up goals than to score them. Even in club soccer he was bending the ball wildly to get it through or around defenders and training himself to think one play ahead rather than chase down the ball with other players.
"I got that from Gretzky, who never fought for the puck because he knew where it would bounce off the boards," says Nash. "It's almost metaphysical: The ball finds the best player, partly because the other players want him to have it."
By 13 he was brilliant at both soccer and hockey and positioning himself for a lucrative career at either. (Bruce Arena, the coach of the New York Red Bulls, says that Nash could play right now in Major League Soccer.) But then Nash discovered the NBA on Canadian TV and fell hard for Magic and Jordan, though the player he locked in on was Isiah Thomas.
"He was the smallest guy out there," says Nash, "but wasn't afraid to take on big men, and he had eyes in the back of his head." Nash, who didn't grow much till he turned 15, cut back on his two best sports to take hundreds of jumpers a night in the school yard next door. "He dribbled a ball everywhere he went," says John, "even a tennis ball." "Nothing he does athletically is all that extraordinary," says Martin of his brother. "What's extraordinary is how hard he worked to get it down."
His high school coach sent 30 letters and tapes to recruiters at U.S. universities, but the only Division-1 school to offer him a scholarship was tiny Santa Clara, in northern California. Nash returned the kindness by putting the Broncos on the map, taking the fly-speck program to March Madness in the spring of 1993 and shocking top-ranked Arizona. Despite rewriting the school's record book, Nash was chosen 15th by the Phoenix Suns in the 1996 NBA draft, which makes him the lowest-drafted MVP winner in the history of the NBA.
But the Suns, a muddled team that could not scout its own talent, traded Nash off to Dallas two years later. There he connected with another marked-down import, a gawky German beanpole named Dirk Nowitzki. Bonding over soccer and their 'Dumb and Dumber' haircuts, Nash and Nowitzki revived the dreadful Mavs with the nastiest pick-and-rolls this side of Utah. They led the team to the playoffs regularly, became All-Stars together, and might, with some tweaking, have racked up a title or two. But Mark Cuban, the self-styled genius who bought the club in 2000, blogged that he knew better, letting Nash, whose greatest weakness was his "kamikaze spirit," hit the free-agent market. Three years, two Division titles and a few team scoring titles later, and the only thing that Nash lacks has also eluded Cuban: the NBA championship.