Best Superstar 2009 | Steve Nash | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix

Steve Nash is a good guy. And he's all we've got in this basketball-crazy town. He's the only superstar left on the Phoenix Suns.

He's a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and the anchor of our professional basketball club. Sure, he's getting some miles on him. Point guards probably run 20 miles a game, and Nash is more frenetic than most — darting, weaving, passing, falling back for a long jumper. Putting the team on his back. Whenever there's a timeout, he can be seen flat on the floor, giving that gimpy back a rest from all the team weight he carries. At 35, he's wearing out as a professional athlete (he recently got a rich, two-year extension on his already-lucrative deal, and we'll be surprised if he can play at an elite level for that long).

Fact is, Nash is an internationally known athlete. He's the pride of Canada, practically a Canadian saint. Yeah, we know the Canucks aren't allowed to canonize anybody — not even Wayne Gretzky (who's still the most popular athlete ever in the 51st state). Despite us thinking the Suns should move on from geezers (by NBA standards) like Nash, we still love him. He exudes niceness. He's always out there building stuff in impoverished neighborhoods, posing with cancer patients, handing out Suns memorabilia at schools, giving pointers to kids on playgrounds.

Nash went to China to join Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets' 7-foot-6 center, in helping Chinese orphans (Nash's idea, natch). Nash persuaded several NBA superstars to travel to Beijing to play in a charity game (just before training camps started). Nash chartered the plane that flew them there. The game raised $2 million for various Chinese charities.

Lots of NBA players don't like each other; many are thugs. But, thug or not, nobody has a bad thing to say about Saint Steve. All you hear are words like "humanitarian" or "generous" or "caring" or "socially responsible" coming out of their mouths. "A genuine great guy," Shaquille O'Neal said, long before he donned a Suns uniform. (It was when Nash edged Shaq out for MVP.)

There's no doubt that Nash has lost a step or three, but let's talk about superstar stats: In addition to his back-to-back MVPs as a Sun, he's been an All-Star six times, first-team NBA three times, he's ninth all-time in assists, has never missed more than eight games in a season, boasts 90 percent shooting from the free-throw line, 43 percent from three-point range, and more than 50 percent from the field all five years he's been in Phoenix. When you couple his career 15-point-per-game shooting average with his 8-assists-per-game average, he's not only destined for a banner in the rafters of US Airways Center (alongside Charles Barkley and Cotton Fitzsimmons), but a spot in the NBA Hall of Fame as one of the greatest point guards ever (pretty good for a scrawny player from tiny Santa Clara in California).

That he's such a mensch, too, makes us glad he's staying around for a couple more years.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

There have been a few great Arizona Diamondbacks during the team's short existence: pitchers Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb, and Dan Haren; hitter Luis Gonzalez. But "The Kid" may turn out to be the best of them all. That's our prediction, anyway, and a growing number of baseball professionals are also shouting the praises of Justin Upton.

Upton, 21, played in his first All-Star Game this season, and we're sure it won't be his last. He's the best all-around hitter on the team, batting .303 at this writing, with 24 home runs, 27 doubles, and 75 runs batted in. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he's becoming a bona fide power hitter. He was third in the National League in slugging percentage at .536, second among outfielders.

When the former Great Bridge High School shortstop from Chesapeake, Virginia, was called up to the D-Backs as an outfielder on August 2, 2007, he was the youngest player in the majors at 19. Four days later, he almost became the youngest player ever to hit a homer, a triple, a double, and a single in one game. He missed by the single. The next season, on July 6, 2008, Upton hit the second-longest homer (a 484-foot shot) in Chase Field history.

While his hitting has never been suspect, his fielding early on with the Snakes left a lot to be desired. He often botched seemingly easy catches, costing his team runs and games. But the problem was solved this season, with Upton making miraculous catches in right field and nailing runners with his precise throws.

Baseball runs in Upton's family. His brother is Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton. During the 2009 season, Justin and B.J. became the first brothers in MLB history to win player of the month honors in the same year. Justin's National League award came for May when he — after breaking out of a slump that had some sportswriters posturing that he should be sent back to the minors — hit .372 with seven round-trippers and 21 RBI. B.J.'s American League honor came in the next month.

In a game where getting a hit a third of the time almost assures a player entry into the Hall of Fame, Upton is a comer. At his tender age, he's so far been spared major injury. He's already virtually assured himself a career spot as a starter in the majors, and if he continues to prosper, he's the one current D-Backs hitter who can make it to Cooperstown.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

In the 1989 Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams, the confused ghost of a 1910s-era baseball player walks around a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield, and asks, "Is this Heaven?" Costner's character, Ray Kinsella, responds, "No, it's Iowa."

Well, walk around Phoenix in mid-March and you may find yourself asking that same question. For baseball fans, March in Phoenix means one thing: spring training. There aren't too many places on the planet where someone can see future Hall of Famers Manny Ramirez, Randy Johnson and Alfonso Soriano take the field . . . on the same day.

Baseball offers its faithful a timeless element of grandeur in the spring ritual, and no place is that more evident than Phoenix. Over 1.5 million fans came to the Valley last year to watch the 14 teams that call Phoenix their springtime home.

From Scottsdale to Goodyear, from Peoria to Chandler, the Valley has nine spring training facilities for teams like the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Cleveland Indians. Given Phoenix's status as a "destination city," almost nobody in Phoenix is actually from Phoenix; spring training offers many Valley residents a chance to see their hometown teams in their new hometown.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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