About halfway through the fourth quarter of the Phoenix Suns' final game of the season, a 110-106 loss to the San Antonio Spurs backups, something truly moving happened in the stands. What started as a chant became an almost universal cray among the 17,172 fans present at US Airways Center. For minutes, the crowd yelled, "We want Steve!" Steve Nash was on the bench resting as he normally would at the start of the fourth quarter, and the fans wanted to see him play a little but more in what was a meaningless season finale.
This fan display was something special. Our emeritus regional editor, Seth Pollack, noted via Twitter that it was perhaps the coolest thing that an Arizona crowd had ever done. Tom Chambers said in the postgame broadcast that he got emotional. It was something special.
The showing had a couple of levels to it.
Fans see the writing on the wall. Nash is a free agent. Over the last few weeks, he has been preparing the fanbase for a possible departure. He has talked about playing for a championship team. He has said that he expects to be paid market price. He has said that he wants roster improvements to come back. He wants to play three more years. He even said that if LeBron James were to ask him to go play for the Miami Heat, he would definitely consider it.
More recently, it is rumored that he was upset that the Suns did not pursue his friend and former teammate Boriss Diaw when he became available.
The fans knew he might not come back and that they might have been seeing him in a Suns uniform for the final time. With a few minutes left in the game, they wanted to see him on the floor one more time. They wanted to be able to cheer him on at least one final time when he came off the court.
But the cheering was also deeper than that. It was a plea to Steve himself that he is loved -- that the fans appreciate him and want him back for more.
He has accomplished everything he could have except a championship. He is a two-time MVP. He is arguably the most popular player the Suns have ever had. He could be considered the very best player the Suns have ever had.
He is, even at age 38, one of the best point guards in the game. No one has better court vision or ability to turn players around him in to players that look really good.
But the fans want him back. It was as touching a moment as you get in sports.
Arizona sports fans get criticized for a lot of things. But on Wednesday night, they united in the arena to do something absolutely special.
And though the season is now over for the Suns, fans across the Valley of the Sun will probably continue saying what was shouted at the arena -- WE WANT STEVE!
Most of us do want Steve back in a Suns uniform. But if he isn't next season, there really couldn't have been a better way for the fans to send him off.
Here's what Steve had to say about the crowd's show of appreciation.
"Obviously, it's amazing to get that type of reception and support. It's very special. It's not something I ask for or imagine to get that type of spontaneous reaction. It's authentic, the relationship I thought we had. It's great. It really feels special. The fans have been phenomenal and have meant a lot to me to play in a city like this as long as I have. To feel important to the fans and community, I just feel like a very lucky guy."