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Steve Nash in his own words
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BASKETBALL SUPERSTAR STEVE NASH ’96 came home to Santa Clara University for a unique honor on Sept. 18: a ceremony retiring his Bronco jersey. In the following convocation address, he tells how Santa Clara changed his life. And that he wants the University to take its mission global.
Transcription by Lindsey Dunne
Nash: Thank you
Nice work, fellas. What an amazing introduction. So, thank you. But, uh, enough about me, let’s talk about me, I guess…
You know I kind of—I’m a little bit nervous, so bear with me. I also spent some time at the Hut yesterday so…
I’m a little dehydrated. Any of you guys been to the Hut?
I thought so. Some of you freshmen have that to look forward to. So, 5:30 sounds good to me. If you guys can spare a little time—I don’t think you have homework yet…
First of all, I didn’t write a speech, because I make myself sick every time I try to write something. I feel so sentimental and clichéd that I thought that it would be a little more interesting and exciting, hopefully for both of us, if this were a little more spontaneous. And I just have a couple of things that I’ll talk about today.
From your perspective, you guys are going through life, and sometimes you don’t have an opportunity to see the future and to realize what a time it is for you guys to be university students. And especially to be at this amazing University. I had no idea.
I wanted to be a basketball player. I wanted to go to a big Division I school and become a star—these big dreams. But nobody wanted me to go to their school, so…
Woman in audience: We love you, Steve!
Nash: Thank you. [Nods to banner in Leavey Center.] That’s a hot photo—thanks for that, by the way, I appreciate that. No one really wanted me to go, so we had a little bit of a problem there. But I was really fortunate and, somehow, everything worked out perfectly. I couldn’t have gone to a more perfect University for me. And I think that, in many ways, everyone can find that in Santa Clara.
What I want to say about that is, I had no idea how impressionable and how important my four years were here. I think that it is very difficult for you guys to foresee how influential and impressionable this time is in your life.
I remember Coach Davey—finally someone wanted me to come to this school—came to watch me play. The first thing he said to me was, “You’re the worst defender I’ve ever seen.” Which was a real confidence builder.
He also used to say that “I might have rocks in my head”—speaking about himself. I think that’s possible, but I’m not a geology major…. He had some good ones.
But he gave me an opportunity to come here to school, and it was one that I didn’t have elsewhere. I had no idea what I was in for, and I think a lot of you guys, especially the freshmen, probably have no idea what you are in for and no idea how great an opportunity this. Not only considering how few people in the world get a chance to go to a center for higher learning, a university, to further their education—and to be in a progressive center; but how many people in America even get a chance to go to one of the elite institutions. That’s what we all are fortunate enough to be a part of.
I say that this was the perfect school for me, and in so many ways it was. I owe so much to my experience here. Obviously, basketball is my career. But I had no chance, obviously, without coming here. And even if I had gone to another university, I don’t know if I would have even been a professional basketball player.
I owe so much to the coaches here, who taught us a lot. They primarily were extremely honest, as you can tell be the way Coach Davey recruited me. But I think that’s such an important quality: to be honest and to be able to be self-critical. They were hard on us, they pushed us, and they were incredible at helping us develop as players—and, as a byproduct, as people. Not a chance would I have had the career, the success, without my coaches. And I want to thank them. They’re still here. I want to thank them for that.
The other guys I want to thank, while I’m thanking people, are my teammates. A lot of guys came back for this, I guess as an excuse to go to the Hut. But I have to admit: Those guys became like family for me. We were all away in school and experienced this at the same time. Those people are so important to me. We lived together, we played together—we did everything together. We pushed each other through everything. And I’ll always feel like they’re, without being too cheesy, my family and my brothers.
Every city that they live in now, when I have a game, I get to see them, and it’s like we haven’t been apart. And time flies so fast: It’s been 10 years since we graduated, and it’ll be 10 years later in a minute. So all of you guys really have to take advantage of this and really make the most of your opportunity here.
And I urge you to really get involved. To make the most out of your opportunity, to be balanced, to do as well as you can in school, to make as many friends as possible. Your friendships will last forever at this school. They’ll be business connections, networks for you for your career—but, most importantly, you’ll have memories and friendships and reunions and people to meet up with and see. My teammates are that for me. And I want to thank them for helping me become, hopefully, a better person and a better basketball player. So let’s give them a round of applause, too.
That’s one of the themes that I wanted to extend a little bit: that the great thing about the group that I played with was that we all pushed each other at everything. It’s such a great quality to be selfless and to make people around you better. My teammates were always super supportive, competitive—you know, one minute we’d fight and the next minute we’d be supporting each other. I think that you guys have the same opportunity, as classmates and through the relationships that you develop, to make each other better, to make the school better, to represent yourself and the school and the community better. All of you have a chance and a decision to make about your attitude and what kind of leader you’re going to be, because all of us are leaders. In the way we carry ourselves, to the way we decide to be, is so impressionable on our community.
You have no idea—you feel like one small piece in this world, but each of us have such a huge power and part to play in the world. And you guys together, collectively, this group of Santa Clara students is going to have such a huge impact on the community and our country in the future.
I think Santa Clara is taking over the world, by the way. Yeah, you’d be surprised—everywhere I go I meet people from Santa Clara. We have the mayor of San Francisco, a starting outfielder for the Giants. Everywhere you go, someone from Santa Clara is doing something special. So you will be the next ones to do that. And I really want you guys to take advantage and make the most of your time here because, like I said, this will be something that you never forget. Hopefully life will get better and better for each and every one of you, but you will never be able to recreate this atmosphere, this environment. So make the most of it.
The last thing I want to touch on is my foundation. We talked a little bit earlier about my foundation and how fortunate I feel that I have an opportunity and a platform to create change and to help people and to be involved in the community, and hopefully, to better it. My biggest hobby, outside of basketball, is really my foundation: being involved, getting people together, building relationships that can help people.
I was a sociology major, and I can remember my first class in sociology with Dr. Fernandez, I think the term was “cultural sensitivity.” That has been such a huge theme in my life: having and understanding and an acceptance of our differences, of individual psychology, but also as a community as a whole. So I urge you guys to get involved, to give back, to help.
Father Locatelli talked about some of the ways that we are failing in this country and in this part of the world, and in our society. You guys can all be a huge part in overcoming that, and whether it’s politics, whether it’s health care, education, poverty, hunger, epidemics, disease—you guys can all make such a huge difference by just doing small things. For me there has been nothing more rewarding than building relationships with people, and together helping make the world, hopefully, better. Helping people who need help. So I urge all of you guys to try to at least be interested in the world: Take a deeper look, think for yourself, and try to understand maybe a little bit more about the world. Travel as much as you can, and really get a better understanding of what is out there, and what you can do to help because, like I said before, you have no idea how powerful each and every one of you is.
That’s really all I have to say. I want to say thank you very much for having me, I want everyone to have a great year. And let’s keep Santa Clara taking over the world. All right?
MVP on Campus—A Photo GalleryPhotos by Charles Barry
Before delivering his convocation talk and the ceremony retiring his SCU jersey, Steve Nash ’96 took a few minutes to talk to reporters. By way of introduction, Jed Mettee, director of media relations for Santa Clara Athletics, asked Nash to say a few words about what it was like to be back for the event.
Nash: I’m excited. It’s obviously very exciting for me. I don’t get the chance to come back to school often at all. So for me just to be here is great. And then, coupled with the huge honor it is to be able to be acknowledged the way the school is acknowledging the career I’ve had, is amazing. Very humbling and in some ways it makes me a little bit awkward to be singled out with all of the great students and athletes who have gone on to do great things at this school.
Reporter: When was your last time back?
Nash: I think it was about four or five years ago. I just came back to visit, really. It’s really difficult about the time when school starts at Santa Clara is about the time I go back to work. And by the time we’re finished, school’s over here. I don’t really have opportunities to come back when school is in session. So it’s really great for me just to have a reason to come back now and take a day out of my training schedule and come back, and feel good, and be a part of it again.
Reporter: Speaking of feeling good, while you’ve been back, are there any old haunts you’ve visited?
Nash: [Smiles.] Yes! We had a barbecue at Coach [Steve] Seandel’s house, which was a lot of fun. Brought back a lot of memories. And then we had a little bit of a party at the Hut last night, so…. Very familiar four walls, and it was a lot of fun.
Reporter: Where does this rank, what you’re here for today—what would you compare this honor to?
Nash: Well, this is kind of unlike anything else. I think Santa Clara means so much to me. My experience here was unlike anything else. It’s such an impressionable stage in your life. And to have such a great experience in such an influential period in my life, and always to remember to fondly and so importantly what my time was like here. To be recognized by the school like that is very rewarding for me in some ways. And, in other ways, I feel such a commonality with my classmates and alumni that it’s a little awkward, because I feel very normal and just one of the guys when it comes to my career at Santa Clara and my four years. In some ways, it’s a little difficult to be the center of attention today because I honestly felt like just one of the team and one of the guys.
Reporter: You majored in sociology when you were here at Santa Clara. I’m wondering how that’s shaped what you’ve gone on to do with the foundation.
Nash: I think it had a huge impact, actually. People always ask me what made you so interested in the community and community service and having compassion for people and their needs and inequalities. It’s really hard to pin it on one thing, but I’m certain that my time in the sociology department had a huge impact and a huge influence on that. I remember my eyes opening pretty wide pretty quickly in sociology, learning a lot about the world, learning a lot about people and obviously society. The impact of sociology definitely was one of the foundations for me in building a need and a want to get involved and help people.
Reporter: What was your backup plan if the NBA didn't work out?
Nash: I think that’s what the degree is for. I didn’t really have a backup plan, per se, but I made sure that I graduated. I have to admit: I majored in basketball. I wanted to play in the NBA, and I put a ton of time into trying to become an NBA player and trying to be the best basketball player that I could be. At the same time, it was important to me to take advantage of the opportunity and not just be eligible and get through it. I definitely wanted to leave here with a degree, because I think it would be a waste of time and a disservice to the school, and a disservice to myself, not to take advantage. It was important to me.
Reporter: Since you’ve been playing ball, you’ve also done a lot of traveling around the world. So, beyond education here, what are a couple of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your travels?
Nash: I think the general themes are always the most obvious to bring up. Any time you travel, you learn something about yourself because you see the differences in people; at the same time you see that people are the same. I love to travel, I love to learn, I love to understand different people—and I think it gives us a better understanding of ourselves. For me it’s important to really accept our differences and enjoy that. Traveling for me is something that I will always do. I will always want to see new places and meet new people and understand how other people live. And I think that in many ways, sociology in many ways planted a seed for traveling and really getting out there and understanding the differences in societies and people.
Reporter: What about parenting? What’s that taught you?
Nash: [Smiles.] Well it’s obviously unlike anything else. What has it taught me? Hmmm. For one, you have—I think the instinct of being a parent is something you can’t really prepare for. You never really will understand what it’s like to have total concern and care for someone else other than yourself. For me to have two little girls that are more important to me than anything else, especially in my life, is exciting. It’s exciting to feel that, it’s liberating to realize that there’s something else out there for us. When that stage in your life comes, when you become a parent, in a way it gives you a whole new life and it give your life a new meaning. More than anything, it’s a lot of fun and life more fun.
Reporter: Can you tell us a little about J.J. [Jim Jennings ’30], the namesake of the fund you established here at Santa Clara.
Nash: J.J. was one of a kind. He put in I don’t know how many decades of service volunteering for the school and this community. Always had a smile on his face and was incredibly happy and was a lot of fun to be around. I used to remember him at the games. He meant a lot to all of us. He was in many ways a guardian of our program. He was always there for us. I think we all loved him. We all really got a kick about having him around all the time.
Reporter: Do you remember any one moment with him and you?
Nash: More than that, I remember a moment that was between all of us. I remember when we beat Arizona. His face, his disbelief, is something that I will never forget. To see someone like that who has given so much to enjoy that as much as he did was really special to all of us.
Reporter: What are you planning on saying today [at the convocation]?
Nash: I try not to get too sentimental. One of the main reasons I didn’t write a speech is that I didn’t want to get sentimental and too clichéd. I put a little pressure on myself, and I’ll say what I feel and what comes to me when I’m up there, and I get that feeling of being back here. I’m sure it will be a great experience for me. I’m not really sure what to expect yet.
Reporter: Have you given a talk like this before?
Nash: No, I haven’t actually. But it’s not like I’m going to be up there for an hour and a half. I’ll say a few things about the school and my experience.