Steve Nash talks Nets pressure, nearly playing for Knicks, most bitter loss

New Nets coach Steve Nash takes a timeout from a hectic offseason for some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: You don’t feel any pressure in this job, or you don’t feel like you will?

A: No, I feel pressure. I love pressure. I think that’s what makes it fun, that’s what allowed me to change coasts and go from a really wonderful life and a stay-at-home dad with various projects. … You want to play for something. You want to have pressure, and try to fight and build and overcome and collaborate and build something that is winning and sustainable.

Q: What tells you that you are ready as a rookie head coach to coach a team that has championship aspirations and expectations?

A: Desire, belief and support. We have a great organization here, tons of support, tons of talent … this is not [just] me, this is us. … This will be a great collaboration.

Q: Do you approach it as championship or bust?

A: Not championship or bust, but we’re playing for a championship, that’s our goal. I think it’s silly, the championship or bust, you never know. You have to have health, you have to have luck to win a championship. It’s not as simple as one plus one equals two, but we are playing for a championship. We are saying that out loud. That’s how we’re going to frame all the decisions we make and the effort and intensity that we train and play with.

Q: What won’t you tolerate?

A: Lack of effort.

Q: What would it mean to you to win a championship as a rookie coach after never winning one as a player?

A: It would mean everything to me, but honestly, it’s not about me. I would be thrilled for our group, for the players, for the coaches. … Honestly, I would get as much joy, more joy, out of seeing our players, coaching staff, all departments win than the feeling I would get about me being a winner. To me, I love being a part of a group, part of a team, and seeing other people happy and succeed is as rewarding as anything and more rewarding than the individual glory. It would be unbelievable just to be a part of that, but to see everyone else’s satisfaction would mean the world to me.

Q: Will you use some of the experienced coaches that you know as resources?

A: Without them knowing, I have. I’ve been watching, taking notes, listening, learning, reading. I have great hopes that I can speak to as many of them as possible.

Q: Would Gregg Popovich be one of them?

A: If I had to have a coaching idol, he’d be way, way up there. His teams look and feel incredibly connected and competitive. They don’t beat themselves, and he has the winning résumé to prove it.

Q: Why do you think you were such a fan favorite when you played?

A: I’ll try to answer this without bragging, but I think a great competitor, great passion for the sport. You could probably see the amount of hours to put into it through my skill level, and then I was an underdog. I wasn’t as big, strong, fast as many of my competitors, and I found a way to survive in the game.

Steve Nash
Steve Nash

Q: What made Steve Nash a Hall of Fame player?

A: Sacrifice. Maybe that’s second to the passion for the sport. If you have a passion for something — like I had a passion for improving — you’re willing to make the sacrifices. You’re willing to do it day after day, year after year. And when you put all those days and weeks, months, years together, you give yourself a chance to have that type of career.

Q: Describe the first time you saw Kyrie Irving play.

A: That’s a tough question because I’m sure I saw him play in college once or twice, but barely remember it. … When you watch someone play hundreds of times, it’s harder to remember the first time. But it was obviously clear to me what a prodigious skill level he had and a flair for the game.

Q: Did he remind you at all of Isiah Thomas?

A: Yeah, sure. They’re two guys that were incredibly skilled and creative, and Isiah was my idol, so I can definitely see the comparisons straight away.

Q: The first time you saw Kevin Durant play?

A: Possibilities. Watched him play at Texas with that length, mobility and shooting touch. You could see the potential, and how he’s filled it has been kind of the advancement of that. It was remarkable to see someone [with] that length, ability and shooting touch … skills. We’ve never really had anyone like that, and it was obvious.

Q: What will your leadership style be?

A: Positive … collaborative … and hopefully someone that can build a team in connectivity and a toughness.

Q: Describe the day you learned about the Kobe Bryant tragedy.

A: I was playing at tennis in L.A., and I felt … almost nothing, in that I just went cold and numb, and I don’t know if it was a defense mechanism, shock or … It took me a long time to really — and I still think I’m coming to grips with it’s actually true. It doesn’t feel real. Having competed my whole career against him, playing with him for a year basically, I hadn’t seen him probably since 2016, and so, you always feel like he’s there and we’ll cross paths one day again. It’s been very difficult for me to come to grips with it.

Q: What drives you now?

A: I love to teach. I love to lead and mentor. I love to collaborate and be a part of a team fabric. And I love to compete.

Q: Who are coaches you admire in other sports?

A: [Former Tottenham Hotspur manager] Mauricio Pochettino … [Manchester City manager] Pep Guardiola … [Liverpool manager] Jurgen Klopp … [Patriots coach] Bill Belichick.

Q: Why Belichick?

A: He’s a master at game-planning and roster-building philosophy. His ability to implement and execute his game plan, it’s outstanding.

Q: Who are athletes in other sports you admire?

A: Anyone on Tottenham Hotspur … Lionel Messi … [Roger] Federer, [Rafael] Nadal and [Novak] Djokovic … Ken Griffey Jr. … Tom Brady.

Q: What is your definition of a point guard?

A: Well, that’s changed. When I was growing up, a point guard was a player that ran the club, tried to make sure others were involved, balance the floor, organize to make plays and then, finally, would score when needed. Nowadays, that’s not the case. It’s more positionless basketball, where each guy has a little bit more ability to make plays, bring balance to the team, and it’s all about having as many guys as possible on the floor who can attack. And oftentimes, that’s the point guard.

Q: Describe your on-court mentality when you played.

A: To attack, be aggressive and make plays for my team.

Q: What was it like playing against Allen Iverson?

A: It was awesome playing against Allen, great competitor, played our whole careers against each other. Such a dynamic ballhandler, penetrator, shotmaker. The toughest thing about Allen was he gets to the foul line. You could live with some of the shooting, you could live with some of the playmaking, but he got to the line and that broke your back so many times.

Q: Whatever comes to mind … Dirk Nowitzki?

A: One of my best friends. Playing together speaks for itself, that’s in one bucket … but I went to his hometown a number of times, he went to my hometown a number of times, and then recently our families have gone on multiple vacations together with the kids, and there’s a certain different feeling to see his kids grow up. And for my kids to get to know his family in that way is incredibly special to me.

Q: The young Jason Kidd?

A: Electrifying.

Q: Amar’e Stoudemire?

A: I could say pride, or I could say explosiveness.

Steve Nash
Steve NashGetty Images

Q: Mike D’Antoni?

A: Brilliant.

Q: In what way?

A: A very unique basketball mind.

Q: Don Nelson?

A: Creativity.

Q: Steve Kerr?

A: All class.

Q: Senator John McCain?

A: He was a war hero.

Q: The Spurs Way?

A: Class.

Q: What will the Nets Way be?

A: I think the two things that I would lead with are “connected” and “competitive.”

Q: There was a possibility you might have gone to the Knicks in the summer of 2012?

A: Yeah, it was between New York, Toronto and L.A. I was reserving the choice between New York and Toronto if and when that Lakers opportunity [a sign-and-trade with the Suns] didn’t arise.

Q: When did you start licking your fingers?

A: That happened when I got in the NBA. I think when I was playing in Phoenix, and it was just so dry in the desert. When I licked my fingers, when I got sweat on my hands with a real leather ball, looking for that tactile kind of connectivity to the ball. With a real leather ball, water actually helps you stick to the ball. With a synthetic ball, water makes it really slippery. Having some moisture helped me get over how dry it was in the air and how dry my hands got in the winters in Arizona.

Q: What was your single most bitter defeat?

A: In Game 4 of Suns-Spurs [2007 Western Conference semifinals], I got hip-checked [into the scorer’s table] by Robert Horry. Amar’e and Boris Diaw stepped onto the court for a brief second. We won the game, but they got suspended, our two bigs, for the next game, and we were leading until the last minute playing Shawn Marion at center the whole night. That may be the most bitter defeat.

Q: Describe the 2000 Olympics.

A: Greatest experience of my career playing for my country [Canada]. Still very close to my teammates. It was incredible to live in the Athlete Village for 2-3 weeks.

Q: What did it mean to you being one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People?

A: I think I took it with a grain of salt (laugh). So many people in the world doing so many amazing things to be influential. The basketball player probably pales in comparison to … many people doing really incredible work to help people and to advance humanity forward.

Q: Why did you almost quit as a freshman at Santa Clara?

A: My coach [Dick Davey] was really tough on me, and it made me wonder if I was good enough. And what I learned was that he was tough on me because he thought I was good enough, and there was a gap there before me recognizing that he’s not telling me I’m not good enough, he’s telling me that I can get there and he’s pushing me to get there.

Q: Why did you dribble tennis balls between classes?

A: It’s a little overblown. I probably did it a handful or a dozen times throughout my time there, but I did it just to work on my ballhandling.

Q: Is it true that you kept your college rejection letters in a shoebox?

A: It wasn’t like I’m keeping these so that I could rub it in their faces one day. I was so removed from college basketball, especially back pre-internet in 1991, that you could get a letter from a major program to say they don’t want you, it connected me to the game a little bit, so they were all stored away somewhere for a little while.

Q: Favorite New York City things?

A: The people … the history … and the diversity.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: I’m gonna double-date … my wife and the Obamas.

Q: Why the Obamas?

A: I really admire them, and I think they’re incredible people, intelligent and have a great capacity to care and be compassionate.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: When I was a kid, “Star Wars” … “Bad News Bears.” … When I got a little older, I was really struck by “Do the Right Thing.”

Q: Favorite actor?

A: Denzel Washington.

Q: Favorite actress?

A: Meryl Streep.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?

A: Bob Marley.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: I’m pretty strict with my diet, but at the same time, I really like almost anything, so I don’t have a favorite meal.

Q: Any regrets in life?

A: I don’t know if I believe in regrets because every time you do something that you can say you regret, it affords you so much going forward. It’s an interesting question, but I’m not sure that I have regrets, just lessons.

Q: What would be your message to Brooklyn Nets fans?

A: Support your team, encourage these guys, and we’ll build something great for you and put on a show.