This country's Athlete of the Decade was born in South Africa, played as a collegian and professional in the United States, made his big splash internationally in Australia and has publicly stated, come the day he retires, his interest in purchasing an interest in English football club Tottenham. But basketball point guard Steve Nash, very much a citizen of the world, is also undeniably Canadian. Nash is as we imagine ourselves. Unquestionably gifted, but often overlooked and overshadowed, by the United States in particular and the rest of the word in general. In all things but hockey, you'd have to say Canada is David and everyone else is Goliath. Enter Mr. Nash and his slingshot passes, calling to mind Wayne Gretzky from two decades earlier, another sports hero who made the assist both a virtue and an art form.
Like Gretzky and contemporaries Mike Weir and Sidney Crosby, Nash has reach the highest levels in his sport despite a lack of height, bulging muscle, leaping ability – all of the things we've come to associate with athleticism. Nash is a reminder that hand-eye co-ordination can also define greatness in sport.
But Nash's accomplishments are particularly noteworthy, given his sport's over-reliance on size.

Choosing one Canadian athlete for the decade is difficult and, of course, arbitrary because we define the choice by a 10-year span. If we looked only at the first five years of the decade, Masters golf champion Weir might be our choice. If we looked at just the last five, Crosby would be hard to resist.
Considering the whole 10 years, two other candidates leap to mind who can make arguable cases for Athlete of the Decade.
Goalie Martin Brodeur's four Vezina awards, two Stanley Cups in the decade (and three in total) and an Olympic gold medal are just a few highlights from one of the most decorated careers in all of hockey.

Part of the reason we consider Brodeur's greatness, however, is his longevity: many of the records and milestones he is setting this decade come from having had a pretty darned good career in the '90s too. Brodeur may also lose some lustre because of the depth of talent in this country in his chosen sport.
You could make strong cases for Chris Pronger, Joe Thornton, Hayley Wickenheiser, Scott Niedermeyer and Jarome Iginla, as well as Crosby, so picking one hockey player above the rest is hard to do. But if you did choose one, it would probably have to be Brodeur.
The other main contender, speedskater Cindy Klassen, has the weight of six Olympic medals and 15 world championships medals on her side, making her Canada's most decorated amateur athlete.

As with Brodeur, Klassen's accomplishments are somewhat muted because she has shared the spotlight with other outstanding women speedskaters such as Catriona Le May-Doan and Clara Hughes (who also deserves mention for being a two-sport star in speedskating and cycling). And also because speedskating remains a niche sport.

By comparison, Nash has precious little hardware to show for his decade. During his one Olympic appearance in Sydney in 2000, he led the upstart Canadian team to victories over Yugoslavia and Australia, but lost to France in the playoffs and the team finished a disappointing seventh.
Three times his team has played in the NBA's Western Conference finals, and three times they have lost.
His teams were pretty good, though, with Nash helping the Dallas Mavericks to four playoff appearances before joining the Phoenix Suns and leading them to another four appearances. The problem for his teams wasn't the point guard, but rather the centres.
Five times in the playoffs, Nash's team met and lost to Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, arguably the player and team of the decade in the world's best basketball league.
There is no denying Nash's accomplishments, however.

He was twice named the most valuable player in the NBA while with the Suns, becoming only the third guard ever to win the award in consecutive years – the other two were Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
He was an all-star and an All-NBA selection six times, led the league in assists three times and even led the league in free-throw percentage once. He never had a season in this decade in which he shot less than 40 per cent from beyond the three-point arc, and for six straight seasons shot better than 50 per cent from the field, unheard of for such a perimeter-oriented player.

More important, his teams were better the moment he stepped on the floor. In Dallas he helped lead a franchise that was a laughingstock and made it a perennial playoff squad. In Phoenix he replaced Stephon Marbury and took a team that had won 26 games and helped it win 62.
Not coincidentally, nearly every teammate enjoyed a career season with Nash at the helm.
He changed the game. If Nash didn't start the return of up-tempo basketball, he certainly proved it could work.
Canada had many great athletes this decade, but very few helped change their sport. Nash did. Suddenly, isolation plays were out.

Sharing the basketball was in. And scoring, which took a nosedive the previous decade, was up again.
Does Nash have flaws? Sure: he's always been too small to be an effective defender in the NBA, and it could be argued he owes his MVP trophies at least in part to rule changes in the NBA that made it far more difficult to stop the dribble penetration he excels at.
But what makes the case for Nash as Canada's Athlete of the Decade is the improbability of it all.
Consider this: fresh off his coming-out party at the Sydney Olympics, Nash began the 2000-01 season with the Mavericks as no sure thing to even start for his team.

He wasn't even on the all-star ballot, though the man who would be his back-up that year — Howard Eisley — was.
And when Nash jumped to Phoenix, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't think the 31-year old had seen his best days as a player. But basketball's version of Benjamin Button keeps getting better, at an age when point guards usually fall apart. Few people keep themselves in better year-round shape than Steve Nash.
The little guy from Victoria began this decade as a marginal starter in the NBA and has become one of the best floor generals the game of basketball has ever seen.
When we celebrate athletes, we celebrate the people who push their bodies to their limits.

We celebrate grace. And we celebrate success, for sport is competition.
Steve Nash has given us all of these things, and he's done it better than just about anyone.

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