Favorite Sun By Sean Deveney - SportingNews Steve Nash, certainly the most famous man in Vancouver, possibly the most famous man in Canada and arguably among the most famous athletes in the world, is hosting the glitziest benefit in British Columbia in late July, a sunset auction at the Cannery Seafood House on the East Vancouver waterfront. There is a red carpet, but this is no black-tie function -- that would have required Nash to don a tux, which is just not happening. Instead, Nash wears a pink checkered shirt, faded Wranglers, a pair of blue Converse All Stars (without shoelaces) and a newly fuzzy head. Just the previous week, Nash lopped off his shoulder-length locks for a Full Metal Jacket look. Now Nash, normally such a smooth setup man as the Suns' point guard, is onstage, speaking nervously, welcoming the intimate crowd to the auction (which benefited the Steve Nash Foundation) and preparing to introduce a live performance by Sarah McLachlan. "Good evening, my name is Sinead O'Connor," he says, sheepishly pausing for laughter. "That is my only joke." When McLachlan takes the microphone, she asks the crowd, "Don't you just love this guy?" Well, yeah. Pick a time, pick a place and everyone loves the guy. They love him in his hometown of Victoria, where, earlier in the same week, an enormous crowd gathered in Central Park to show its affection as he dedicated a new basketball court in a spot that had become a haven for drug users. They love him at his alma mater, Santa Clara, where he gave this year's convocation speech. They love him in Nash's adopted summer home of New York City, where he was a regular on the summer amateur soccer circuit and even practiced with the MLS's Red Bulls at Giants Stadium. They love him in Asuncion, Paraguay, where Nash's foundation helped open the country's only facility for infants recovering from heart surgery, at the Hospital de Clinicas. In Italy, where the Suns opened training camp, Nash took teammates to an AC Milan-Siena soccer match. "When they showed up at the Milan soccer game and everyone knows he's a soccer fan, it made him grow even more in popularity here in Italy," says Suns coach Mike D'Antoni. "He even cussed in Italian, so I think he's got it down pretty good. They love him here, and why not?" There's love aplenty for Nash, across the world and in the NBA. Bobcats point guard Raymond Felton says he spent much of his rookie year watching tapes of Nash. Suns teammate Leandro Barbosa credits Nash's guidance, in part, for his breakout performance last season. Spurs guard Michael Finley, a teammate of Nash's in Dallas, says, "Everyone should have a teammate like him." Another former teammate, Nick Van Exel, was so fond of Nash that he bought him two suits. Then there's this from Jay Williams, who is attempting to make a comeback this year after a horrific motorcycle crash in 2003: "When I was in the hospital after the accident, I got this letter. It was two pages, handwritten. It was from Steve Nash, who I did not even know that well. But he wanted to tell me to keep my spirits up. That says a lot about what kind of guy he is." He's the kind of guy who is a multiple blessing for the NBA as it opens the 2006-07 season. The league has struggled since the 1998-99 lockout but appears positioned for a watershed season -- the kind it used to have in its "I love this game!" heyday. A new class of players (Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony) has ascended to superstardom. Television ratings for The Finals were up 13 percent last season. A marquee franchise (Chicago) is revitalized. That's good news. Better news for those who want to love this game, though, is Nash and the Suns are leading an uptempo overhaul that has proved to be more than a passing fad. Even without his self-deprecating, hospital-dedicating, denim-donning, letter-penning ways off the court, Nash is a player to cheer for on it. He's the two-time defending MVP, one of nine players to win the award back to back. He is a thrilling, precise passer with unparalleled court vision. "He throws passes," says Mavericks point guard Devin Harris, "most guys would not even think to try." Phoenix has lifted uptempo to high art by averaging 109.4 points per game over the past two seasons. Other teams are following, but other teams don't have Nash. "Every great team has to have an engineer, and Steve Nash is an engineer," says former NBA player and Suns broadcaster Eddie Johnson. "He sees the floor, he gets it to his guys, and he gets it to them in their shooting pocket, where they can catch it and put it right up. And he has a smorgasbord of guys he can give it to. That's exciting basketball. That's what people want to see." The NBA is counting on people's wanting to see Nash feast on that smorgasbord -- the Suns will make 23 national TV appearances, including an opening night game against the Lakers. It has been 19 seasons since a truly uptempo team (the Showtime Lakers) won an NBA championship, but these Suns are poised to change that. They are deep, they are athletic, and they are tired of going home in May. Guards Barbosa and Raja Bell had career years in 2005-06, and free-agent acquisition Marcus Banks could have one this season. Shawn Marion is an All-Star forward, Boris Diaw is likely to become one, and Kurt Thomas is a reliable veteran. The question is center Amare Stoudemire, who is struggling in his recovery from last April's knee surgery, his second in a sixth-month period. "We seem to have the pieces, and we're going out there with a chance to win a championship," Nash says. "You have got to feel good about that." You sure do. It may have been a while since all you closeted hoops fans felt good about this game. But everyone loves uptempo, everyone loves the Suns, and everyone loves Nash. The prospect of a Nash-led run-and-gun team's winning a title has to make you long for a little John Tesh NBA on NBC intro music. Go on, hum it. The coast is clear -- it's OK to love this game again.