TORONTO (Reuters) - Steve Nash teased Canadian basketball fans with another masterful display on Wednesday, dishing out a season-high 18 assists to lift the Phoenix Suns to a 136-123 win over the Toronto Raptors.
With Nash masterminding Phoenix’s potent attack, Leandro Barbosa scored 35 points as the Suns took their win streak to four games.
Known as Captain Canada in the Great White North after a decade of representing his country on the international stage, Nash retired from national duty in 2004.
But with the Beijing Olympics on the horizon and Canada still having an outside chance of qualifying, Canadians are hoping the NBA’s twice most valuable player might reconsider.
Nash received the usual rousing ovation from a capacity crowd at the Air Canada Centre on his only regular season appearance in his homeland but his arrival was followed by lively debate over whether he should don the Maple Leaf again.
Newspaper, sports radio and television talk shows spent a good part of Wednesday discussing the issue, while the Olympic question was the first put to Nash during a pre-game scrum.
”I am a little surprised, I didn’t know people were still talking about it,“ Nash told reporters. ”I wish I could play.
”Some people would say, you obviously can but I don’t think people realize how difficult it is for me to do what I do...accept the responsibility I have for this team, physically, mentally, emotionally and everything that goes with that off the court.
“It’s a lot. I don’t know if I could last.”
The cornerstone of the national team from 1993 to 2004, Nash helped his country to a seventh-place finish at the Sydney Olympics and was back in uniform when Canada failed to qualify for Athens four years later.
Now 33-years-old, Nash said the wear-and-tear of an 82-game NBA schedule had forced him to face the harsh reality he was no longer capable of carrying a team and his country.
”As you get older you realize it’s just impossible to play year round,“ said Nash. ”Especially for me to play at the level I want to play at I have to train pretty hard to get to that level.
”I can’t just show up the week before and play and expect the type of performance I expect, people expect.
”It would take six weeks, two month of training to get to that level.
“I don’t think I can do that at this stage of my career.”
Editing by Ed Osmond