NEW YORK - Steve Nash, the newly minted Brooklyn Nets coach, sounded all the right notes at his introductory news conference on Wednesday (Sept 10).
He called the first coaching job of his career a "unique opportunity" and said the Nets had "an incredible roster" at an "incredible point in the history of the franchise."
He also defended his hiring, which has reignited the long-simmering debate over how much more often white people are chosen for National Basketball Association (NBA) head coaching jobs than black people in a league where an estimated 80 per cent of the players are black.
"Well, I did skip the line, frankly," said Nash, who is white and has no coaching experience.
"But at the same time, I think leading an NBA team for almost two decades is pretty unique. To be the head of the team on the floor. Think on the fly. To manage personalities, people and skill sets, and bring people together. Collaborating with a coaching staff for almost two decades. I mean, it's not like I was in a vacuum."
Nash's hiring was a surprise to many basketball observers. He has never officially coached at any level. Jacque Vaughn, who had been the Nets' interim head coach since March, was passed over for the permanent role and asked to remain on as lead assistant.
Nash's resume is almost entirely based off his NBA playing days, which lasted from 1996 to 2014, during which he become one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. He won two Most Valuable Player Awards and made eight All-Star teams. He led the Phoenix Suns' so-called "seven seconds or less" offence that focused on quick shots and three pointers, which contributed to a broad evolution in playing style across the league.
These attributes, general manager Sean Marks said, made Nash the ideal head coach. Marks, a former teammate of Nash's, joined Nash at the news conference. They wore matching black Nets polos and sat several feet apart, socially distanced.
"As we spread the net in our search for the next leader, the next connector, a communicator and a cultural driver, we looked for these qualities, and all these qualities we found in Steve," Marks said. "His resume, his Hall of Fame resume, his experiences both on and off the court and his character are second to none."
Nash told reporters that he reached out to Marks over the summer to express interest in the coaching job, but the conversation was a culmination of a two-decade relationship with Marks.
"I love to compete," Nash said. "I love to teach, lead and to be a part of the team. So to be in a position where I can do all those things on a day-to-day basis is a perfect fit. While I haven't necessarily publicly stated a desire to coach, privately it's always been in my mind."
He added: "When you can't run up and down the court anymore, what can you do? What can you contribute?"
Nash was close with Nets forward Kevin Durant before taking the coaching job. In 2015, Nash was hired by Golden State as a player development consultant and worked with Durant, who spent three seasons with the Warriors. Nash also said Wednesday that he has a relationship with Nets guard Kyrie Irving. They worked out together in New York after Nash retired. Durant and Irving are two of the best players in the league and together make the Nets a formidable championship contender.
"Kyrie is one of my favourite players of all time," Nash said. "He's brilliant. His skill level is historically off the charts. Creative. Guts. Competitiveness. So for me to get to coach him is a pleasure." Asked what kind of coach he would be on the sideline, Nash said he wasn't sure yet.
"I don't see myself as a yeller and screamer," Nash said. "But I haven't actually been over there yet so we'll see what transpires. But I think the reality is I'm going to be myself. If I'm anything other than myself, it's not going to work. I can't come in trying to conform to what I think a coach is supposed to be."