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Nash: Nets job an ‘incredible moment’ but agrees he ‘skipped the line,’ benefited from ‘white privilege’

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In a wide ranging interview with New York and national media, Steve Nash called the Nets coaching job an “incredible moment” for him ... while admitting his years of experience as a player and his connections helped him “skipped the line” and get one of the best gigs in the NBA. And yes, he noted, there is “white privilege,” but added he didn’t believe his hire is an example of that.

Nash also noted that he was he who approached Sean Marks about the job “sometime in the summer” because finally after five years of working as a consultant for the Warriors and as general manager of Team Canada, he was ready. No matter that the job was in New York, with superstars and very, very high expectations.

And he wouldn’t downplay the pressure that will come with coaching a team that includes Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert et al, calling the roster “incredible.”

“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.”

His friendship Sean Marks and the Nets culture appealed to him, he noted.

“This has been a 20-year relationship with Sean, but as far as this process, I reached out to Sean this summer and asked if this was the right time to throw my name in the hat,” Nash said. “It did come together rather quickly in real time, but this is a conversation that has been going on for a long, long time. (Coaching) had been in my mind so to speak for a long time, and it funneled into this opportunity more recently. It was just something that came from a lot of thought; I felt like I had a lot to offer, and this was a unique opportunity that fit my skill set...

“It’s a unique opportunity with an incredible roster and incredible family here with the Nets and Sean’s leadership. Joe and Clara (Tsai) support the vision for this community and franchise, and there’s a family feel here that makes it exciting to walk in here. We’re at an incredible point in time for this organization.”

Nash, without detailing what the Nets roster might look like once the NBA resumes, said he loves the “core” he will be working with.

“I expect the core to be there, I’m planning on this core being there, but in the NBA you have to be adaptable and know that anything can happen. So I’m planning around this group... I’m thrilled with this roster.”

The Hall of Famer also spoke about Kevin Durant who he worked with during their three years together in Oakland and Kyrie Irving who he’s worked out with but who, more importantly, is someone he admires for his off the court actions as well as his creativity on the court.

“It’s a privilege to work with one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” said Nash. “Someone who is incredibly coachable, inquisitive, and that lends itself to the question of searching. I think what I meant was that Kevin’s always searching, he’s always curious, inquisitive, developing as a human being,” said Nash of KD.

“So he’s a deep person who has a lot of goals and a lot about him, not just in basketball terms. I think my comment is more about Kevin as a human being, the type of person he is, about how he’s always trying to grow, always trying to learn and always asking how he can get better. A big part of that is that Kevin is somebody that is never afraid to say, ‘help me with this’ ‘what do you think about that’ so that’s the type of confidence and security it takes to be able to ask for help or know what they don’t know. And he has that along with an incredible drive, work ethic, toughness and historic talent.”

He admitted not knowing Irving as well but being a big fan.

“First of all, Kyrie’s one of my favorite players of all time. He’s brilliant; skill level historically off the charts. Creative. Guts. Competitiveness. For me to get to coach him is really a pleasure. We have a relationship going back to when he was a rookie, playing against him. Got a chance to train with him for a couple days in New York City after I retired. Must have been five, six years ago,” said Nash.

“And I got a chance to speak to him since taking the job. I’m excited to develop that relationship, watching him continue to show greatness on the floor and to continue to get to know him in a really meaningful way, because he’s an incredible person. The gestures and the things he’s done around the WNBA or social justice, these are the things I really admire. For him to put himself in that position with his platform, to help people, shows there’s a really deep person there that I’ve gotten to know but look forward to getting to really know and understand and learn from.”

Although he didn’t speak about any players other than KD and Kyrie,— to be fair, he also wasn’t asked specifically about any of them, Nash did talk about how related to players while playing.

“I don’t even think about it as star personalities, in the sense of those guys were my friends,” Nash said of his 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.”

As for “skipping in line,” Nash agreed that’s what happened but noted as well that he has a record if not in coaching then in leading teams.

“Well, I did skip the line, frankly,” Nash said when asked. “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.”

He also noted that he was not alone in taking the reins of a team without doing the drudge work of being an assistant coach. Indeed, the list of point guards who were elevated to head coach is long, starting with Magic Johnson with the Lakers, Isiah Thomas with the Pacers, Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr with the Warriors and Jason Kidd with the Nets.

“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.”

And on whether his hire was, in Stephen A. Smith’s words, an example of “white privilege,” Nash told NetsDaily that yes, indeed, he has been the beneficiary of being white in America, but he added he didn’t believe his hire should be classified that way.

“I have benefited from white privilege,” Nash said. “Our society has a lot of ground to make up. 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 purely fits that conversation, but I own 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 that 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.”

Nash also suggested an irony that he, as a well-known ally of the Black Lives Matter movement, has become drawn into the debate. He added that he accepts the need for debate on the issue.

“It’s interesting, being such a supporter and ally 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.”

Nash also praised the Nets owners, Joe and Clara Tsai, for their social initiatives.

“This is something that they have really made an incredible gesture to help, within our organization but also in our communities, to stem the gap in racial in justice. So I am very sensitive to the cause and the goal,” Nash said.

Marks, talking about Nash at the beginning of the press conference, said his new coach has “never run from anything,” that is character and integrity was a big reason why he hired him.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around that hasn’t wanted to be pressure-tested on the spot quite like Steve,” the Nets GM told the press conference. “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.”

After Nash finished with the press conference, he sat for Rachel Nichols of ESPN’s “The Jump.” When she asked him to set a goal for his first year on the job. “Would it be the kiss of death for a rookie coach to call for a championship on Day 1?” Nash said ... with a smile.