Nets’ Nash: Got to ‘skip the line’ due to career

Newly hired Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash said criticism that he “skipped the line” and got the opportunity to coach a presumed NBA championship contender were fair, but that his 18-season Hall of Fame career properly positioned him to have success as a first-time head coach.

“Well, I did skip the line, frankly,” Nash said in his virtual introductory news conference from the team’s practice facility Wednesday afternoon. “But at the same time, I think leading an NBA team for almost two decades is pretty unique. So while I haven’t necessarily learned some of the skills that I’ll definitely seek to understand and learn as far as the technical aspects of coaching, I was never far from that.

“So to lead a team in such a unique position, to be the head of the team on the floor, to think on the fly, to manage personalities and people, skill sets, and bring people together, collaborating with a coach and a coaching staff for almost two decades, it’s not like I was in a vacuum. I learned a tremendous amount during my career.”

There have been several other coaches who have immediately gotten head coaching opportunities, including Steve Kerr, Doc Rivers and Isiah Thomas. That group also includes Jason Kidd, Nash’s long-ago teammate and fellow Hall of Fame point guard who, seven years ago, also got the chance to coach a Nets team featuring star players and sky-high expectations.

“I haven’t grinded it out as an assistant coach like many people’s path, but there’s a precedent for players who have strong careers, who are leaders, anchors,” Nash said. “I think to get this opportunity, as Steve Kerr and many other people have had great success, it’s a unique situation, I think. But I definitely realize that I need support. I’m going to hopefully bring a lot of qualities and skills to the table that are unique and strong, but I’m going to need support and a collaborative staff that has a lot of experience and is willing to build this with me.”

Nash’s hire has been met with criticism both because of his lack of coaching experience and because this summer has seen multiple Black coaches be fired from jobs around the league — leaving the current number of minority head coaches in the NBA at five.

Nash was asked about the idea that white privilege playing a role in him getting this opportunity. And while he said he thought his playing career was the reason why he did, Nash, who has a picture of George Floyd as his Twitter profile picture, said white privilege is a real part of society, and something that society “has a lot of ground to make up.”

“I have benefited from white privilege,” Nash said. “I’m not saying this position was a factor, as far as white privilege. … I think, as white people, we have to understand we have a certain privilege and a benefit by the color of our skin in our communities. We have a long way to go to find equality and social and racial justice. I hope that I’m a great ally in that cause.

“I’m very sensitive to the cause and the goal. I’m not sure that this is an example that fits that conversation, but I won it and I understand why it’s talked about. We do need more diversity and more opportunities for African American coaches on staff in all capacities. The league was built through African American players and stars who have made this one of the greatest entertainment industries and businesses in sports in the world. It’s really important that we continue to come together and fight at the league level.

“It’s interesting, being such a supporter and all of that need for equality, to be put in the middle of it, in a sense, because it’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. But I accept it. I want to be part of the conversation. And, frankly, I want to be a part of change moving forward.”

Since his career came to an end, Nash has been a person of intrigue for a number of different jobs. Outside of a consulting role with the Golden State Warriors and serving as the general manager of the Canadian National Team, he’s previously shied away from going after any of them.

That wasn’t the case with this job, however. Nash said he called up Nets general manager Sean Marks earlier this summer and asked if it wasn’t too late for him to him to be considered for the job. From there, things quickly progressed.

“I reached out to Sean at some point in the summer,” Nash said. “I can’t remember exactly when that was, [and I] asked if this was the right time for me to throw my name in the hat and be considered for the position. That’s what got the ball rolling.”

He also claimed that the high-profile nature of the job — in the biggest city in the country, with high-profile star players — didn’t factor into his pursuit.

“No part of me considered the profile [of the job] in taking the job,” Nash said. “It was being back there in the office with my coaching staff, being out here on the floor with the players, trying to build, like I said, a family and an environment that these guys love to come to work every day, continually growing and pushing to get better. We’re all pushing each other, and supporting each other. I only considered the job from a basketball perspective.

“I really approached it from, ‘Where am I in this journey of learning and growing and asking questions and collecting information.’ This opportunity is so unique, coupled with that journey I was on, that it just felt like this was the right time, a moment in time, and I’m so grateful it came together.”

For his part, Marks said Nash’s playing career is more than enough of a body of work for him to be entrusted with a team that has championship aspirations right out of the gate. Kevin Durant will be returning from a torn Achilles tendon to pair with Kyrie Irving, who is coming off shoulder surgery.

“I think Steve is a little different,” Marks said when asked about Nash being a first-time head coach. “You look at the career path that he’s had. I was also very fortunate to be on one of the teams with him, so I got an up close and personal relationship with Steve, and it goes back to just watching how he conducted himself, the leader that he was both on and off the court. I think that’s very important. He was certainly a culture driver in those Suns days when I was there.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around that hasn’t wanted to be pressure-tested on the spot quite like Steve. He’s never shied away from a moment, so when you say first time head coach, we’ve seen that been done before. This guy has never run from anything. He wants the ball in his hands at the end of games and his career spoke for itself. He’s made the right decision more times than not, and the experience he’ll bring here speaks volumes.”

One of the main selling points of Nash’s candidacy, beyond his obviously impressive playing career, is his relationship with Durant. The two of them worked together in Golden State during Durant’s three seasons there, and Nash has repeatedly said — including Wednesday — that Irving is one of his favorite players to watch in the NBA.

Nash said he hadn’t spoken to Durant before reaching out to Marks about the job. But having played alongside stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal during his career, Nash said he hopes to have his relationships with players like Durant and Irving mirror that of what he did with other players, rather than as a typical player-coach relationship.

“I don’t even think about it as star personalities, in the sense of those guys were my friends,” Nash said of his past teammates. “Those were my teammates and friends. So I feel that it’s not about their status, it’s about the human being. Getting to know and understand people is always something that I enjoy. You need your teammates on the floor, but off the floor I just needed them as friends.

“I wanted to come to work every day and understand my teammates. I want to like them. I wanted to build a fabric between us that made it enjoyable, that we could have a laugh and a joke but also be honest and push each other and give each other a hard time and make the season shorter. So that’s kind of the start and the finish for me. I understand that there’s levels in this game and that some people are higher profile, higher importance but a team is a team and a person is a person. So to understand people, genuinely care and want to get to know them, that’s it for me.”

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