For the love of the game

Nash had one of those moments Friday night in Philadelphia. He scored 19 points in 28 minutes on his 40th birthday, the Lakers won and for a night, everyone in Los Angeles smiled alongside him.

Then he banged his knee on Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich's knee Sunday and all the good feelings were gone. He tried to play again Tuesday because the Lakers only had eight healthy players, but couldn't handle the pain in his hamstrings and called it a night at halftime.

Nash could sit back and collect checks for the next 18 months without putting in another day of work in the gym and he's trying to play through pain for a losing team against the bottom-tier Utah Jazz on a Tuesday night because he didn't want to let his teammates down?

"You can understand people's perspectives in L.A.," said Rick Celebrini, Nash's longtime, Canadian-based physiotherapist. "But all you wish for in my line of work ... is for athletes to commit fully or have a real sort of professionalism in terms of how they prepare and how they maximize their performance.

"Here's a guy that has done that in every way to the Nth degree possible. How can you ever fault somebody that is so honest and so committed and focused and so giving to not only himself and the team, but to the game?"

There are those who think retirement is a noble option, a personal sacrifice that would help the Lakers' finances. But again, that's about the future, not the present in which a 40-year old future Hall of Famer is playing through pain in a meaningless game because he finds meaning in helping his teammates through a rough time, and joy in playing the game of basketball for as long as he still can.

"He looks at it like, 'I made a commitment, I can't not fulfill my commitment,'" Nash's agent, Bill Duffy, said.

"Whether it's helping the young guys, or doing whatever he needs to do to get back on the court, that's what he's going to do.

"He respects the organization and he feels that the best way he can help them is to get healthy and get back on the court."

Just what did it take for Nash to get healthy this last time?

Before Celebrini even began working him out last summer, he made him explain why he wanted to do it. The physical part of his recovery would be so daunting, Celebrini figured, it wasn't worth it to even try if Nash didn't have a deep well of desire to keep playing.

"Our work is demanding mentally and physically," Celebrini said. "Maybe even more mentally than physically because you're focusing on every single movement. It takes a lot of mental focus to do that twice a day, every day."

Celebrini essentially had to retrain Nash's way of moving. The nerve root irritation in his back affected his every movement. To treat it, he had to unlearn and then relearn everything he did on a basketball court in a way that wouldn't irritate the nerve.

Their workouts have been a mix of intense core strengthening and conditioning that would make a rigorous Pilates class feel like a warmup.

"One of our drills is called Basketball Tai Chi. We go through a lot of his basketball specific movements in slow motion," Celebrini said. "He's trying to perfect the transitions and the motions he makes."

It's very different from the work Nash and Celebrini did earlier in their 15-year partnership, when the trainer helped him after he was diagnosed with a congenital back condition called spondylolisthesis.

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