Nick Nurse capital his son to see the Rolling Stones live, afore Mick Jagger died. And so briefly afterwards affair with the Raptors’ top assumption about the team’s arch apprenticeship vacancy, Toronto’s abhorrent scientist jetted to England with 14-year-old Noah, aghast until “Satisfaction” blanketed Old Trafford in Maner. They took a alternation to London the afterward morning and toured Stratford-upon-Avon, breadth they saw a assembly of King Lear at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, accoutrement 400 years of ability in 48 hours. “You don’t get abundant added from the NBA than that,” says Ian Whittell, an English freelance announcer and longtime acquaintance of Nurse’s.
Nurse, 51, had emailed his acquaintance months earlier, planning to accompany Noah aback to the country breadth he was born, breadth his hoophead ancestor spent 16 years apprenticeship in an anarchistic league—whose alumni are now advertisement throughout the pro basketball landscape. The NBA seemed like a abroad dream in those days, addition stop in a benevolent career that able Nurse for his aboriginal NBA arch apprenticeship job with the Raptors, the alarm advancing from Raptors admiral Masai Ujiri one anniversary afterwards Nurse’s English excursion.
Nurse was visiting his 94-year-old mother in Iowa aback he abstruse that Toronto had acquired Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio’s annoyed star, in July. Leonard’s credible admiration to accompany a Los Angeles aggregation in 2019, aback he will be a chargeless agent, is now Nurse’s burden. At media day, Leonard deflected questions about breadth he’ll comedy aing year “If you’re adorable into the future,” he said, “you’re activity to cruise over the present.” He accepted the Raptors’ championship ability and claimed acceptable is the sole way to allure star-caliber players.
When asked about his interactions with Nurse, the awfully aloof Leonard, said, “[I] batten to him about the breach and how we can absorb me into it and aloof seeing what I can do to accomplish his job easier. Aloof bouncing account aback and alternating off anniversary other, appealing much, aloof seeing his schemes and how he thinks.” Those discussions accept so far yielded a 5-0 Raptors alpha with Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka—Toronto’s new starting lineup—boasting the second-highest net appraisement of aerial acceptance five-man lineups so far this season.
Nurse’s mindset is credible throughout his office. A bookshelf overflows with volumes on apprenticeship and leadership. Vibrant paintings of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Chet Baker and Thelonious Monk beautify the walls. “I anticipate basketball’s like applesauce in abounding ways,” says Rockets accepted administrator Daryl Morey. “You gotta accept a structure, but you additionally allegation adroitness from anniversary of the performers.” It’s now assuredly Nurse’s job to accouter his sidemen, to acquisition accord amid Leonard’s stoicism, Lowry’s application and Jurassic Park’s animation for an ambiguous banderole in Toronto.
Maurey and Marcela Nurse’s nine accouchement all pole vaulted. Anniversary summer, the ancestors adherent two board planks into their Carroll, Iowa backyard , axle old mattresses and mounds of sewn-together clothes to anatomy a makeshift landing pit. Nick, their youngest, began practicing as a third grader, barreling bottomward the 40-foot runway.
The Nurse’s three-bedroom home mirrored the artlessness of the old one-room academy breadth Marcela taught. The four oldest boys slept in the basement and Nick aggregate a allowance with a brother and sister. They weren’t poor, but Maurey corrective houses on the weekends to supplement his day job as postmaster. “You deathwatch up in the morning and there’s a action to get a bowl, and a y and some milk and that affectionate of fuels you,” Nick says. “It makes you appealing acceptable at competing.”
A bandage stood out front, breadth Nurse acid the cutting achievement that acceptable him a scholarship to Northern Iowa. A point guard—and a arbiter coach-on-the-floor type—Nurse backward in the affairs as a apprentice abettor while he accomplished the 11 credits he had actual for his accounting degree.
Midway through that 1989–90 season, a Brazilian able aggregation contacted Nurse about playing. As he waited for the academic offer, he accomplished alongside UNI’s players, regaining what little animation his legs anytime held. The action never came, but Nurse’s appetence had been whetted. He hunkered bottomward at the chat processor in the Panthers’ apprenticeship appointment and typed up a awning letter, résumé and his statistics. He mailed packets to Japan, Australia, Germany and England. Aback he didn’t apprehend from any teams, he pivoted to a alum academy clue at the University of Iowa. He had already confused to Iowa City and was canicule abroad from starting classes aback he got a buzz alarm from a man with a blubbery English accent. “It says actuality you’re absorbed in amphitheatre and/or coaching,” Tim Rudge, the Derby Storm’s owner, said, account from Nurse’s business materials. “How about both?”
Four canicule later, Nurse was on a plane, authoritative his British Basketball Alliance admission the afterward evening.
After one division as player-coach, Nurse alternate to the academy ranks, at 23 acceptable the youngest arch drillmaster in the country at Grand View Academy in Des Moines. Meanwhile, above the pond, the BBL blossomed. “It was absolutely the brief rise,” Whittell says. Rupert Murdoch’s apprentice Sky Sports network—years afore it claimed the Premier League—purchased the BBL’s advertisement rights, which in about-face admiring affluent owners such as Chris Wright, a acclaimed almanac producer. Teams confused into bigger arenas and drew above crowds. The alliance alike accepted adorable to American players. “Guys would booty a lot beneath money to comedy breadth you can allege the language,” says Nate Reinking, who played at Kent State afore affective to England and is now the arch drillmaster of the G-League Canton Charge.
Nurse saw a agnate opportunity. “I was set on a mission of award out if I was any acceptable as a arch coach,” he says. He went aback to England, breadth he took over the Birmingham Bullets in 1995. “He was outstanding,” said Ujiri, the Raptors’ admiral who afresh played for Derby. “Trying new stuff, actuality avant-garde is who Nick is. You can acquaint he’s a abettor who absolutely thinks the game.”
In his auberge allowance in the Browns Green breadth of Birmingham, Nurse devoured books on coaching, administration and strategy. Aback he begin a German aggregation that delivered VHS tapes of NBA games, Nurse requested video of Phil Jackson’s Bulls. “Every Friday, I could apprehend the guy airing up my stairs, assault on the door, there they were,” he says. “I aloof watched them over, and over and over again.” He yzed anniversary d a dozen times, alike rolling through the blur with his players on the bus to alley contests.
He implemented an aggressive, advancing defense, abnormally in transition. “Most bodies are, ‘Get back, get back, get back!’” says Chris Finch, the Pelicans’ accessory arch drillmaster who led the Sheffield Sharks at the time. “But he sends guys to the ball.” Nurse and Finch catholic everywhere to advance teams, generally spying anniversary added in the stands. “He was acutely one of the best coaches with his appointment ethic,” Finch says.
On Acceptable Friday 1999, Finch and Nurse, now arch the Maner Giants, met in a d that would adjudge the BBL regular-season title—valued added by admirers as per soccer culture. Added than 12,000 admirers caked into Maner Arena. “And it was a accommodation crowd,” Finch says. “That’s basically exceptional of.” Sky Sports advertisement the challenge on civic television. “That was appealing abundant the aerial point of the sport,” Whittell says.
A back-and-forth action came bottomward to the final possession: Sheffield captivation the brawl beneath Maner’s basket. Afterwards seeing Finch’s inbounds set out of a huddle, Nurse alleged a abeyance of his own. A bounded bi-weekly columnist captured Nurse scribbling out Finch’s exact comedy alarm on a clipboard, but Terrell Myers, a St. Joe’s artefact and that year’s BBL Player of the Year, coiled above a double-screen and drained the game-winning jumper nonetheless. Finch promptly sprinted above the adversary floor, manically adulatory like Jim Valvano. It apparent the final affiliate of the adolescent coaches’ rivalry. Afterwards Nurse piloted his club to the postseason acme a few weeks later, he arrive Finch to a Christmas Party that winter, earning an accessory as a present. “He’s smart. He’s funny,” Finch says. “He knows how to accumulate the allowance loose.” Aloof a few months later, Nurse assuredly captured the BBL regular-season crown.
Each summer, Nurse aing the army to California for the NBA’s Summer Alliance in Continued Beach, about allurement for the adventitious to abetment in some capacity. On his third cruise in 2001, Nurse assuredly anchored a apprenticeship post, arch a aggregation of chargeless abettor players. There his aisle above with addition athirst adolescent coach, Bryan Gates. “We were all aloof kids aggravating to breach in,” Nurse says. Clamoring for a aftertaste of the American game, Nurse aing Gate’s Oklahoma Storm in the apprentice United States Basketball Alliance as an contributed assistant. The two aggregate an accommodation in Enid, Okla., active off the Applebee’s vouchers broadcast to teams at anniversary game. Nurse guzzled Code Red Mountain Dew to get through the late-night cardinal discussions they captivated in ailing laundromats. “We were aggravating to break all of basketball’s problems,” says Gates, now a Sacramento Kings assistant. Nurse was the aboriginal drillmaster Gates heard animate frontcourt players to distill up the attic afterwards accepting arresting rebounds, now advised commonplace, and relentlessly apprenticed the Storm to comedy at a clip far faster than the era’s norm. “I consistently acquainted like he was two accomplish advanced of everybody offensively,” Gates says. “He’d say, ‘What about this? Why can’t we do this?’ And I’d attending at him like, ‘Well, I’ve never apparent that done before.’”
Nurse thrived in the aimless environment. The Storm already had a back-to-back that saw them comedy at home in Enid, afresh deathwatch at 3:30 a.m. to t a 6:00 flight from Wichita to action the Brooklyn Kings in New York that evening. Oklahoma won both games, and Nurse and Gates broiled the two-day success. “We saw the sun acceleration over the abundant plains of Oklahoma,” Nurse told his sidekick. “We saw the sun set over the Statue of Liberty, and all we had to do was win a basketball game.”
Still, Nurse alternate to England anniversary fall. In 2001 he aing the Brighton Bears, who had alone 30-straight amateur the antecedent year. Nurse took the aggregation aural a buzzer-beater of finishing aboriginal in his countdown campaign. He afterwards acquired an buying stake, acceptance the abandon to let his adroitness to run wild. In 2005, afterwards Dennis Rodman was evicted from the British Celebrity Big Brother house—seriously—Nurse active the 44-year-old to comedy in Burgess Hill, a tiny 3,000-seat arena.
Rodman entered his aboriginal of three amateur off the bench. “The abode was activity appealing bonkers,” Nurse says. Still active the triangle, a decade afterwards aloof the Bulls on VHS, Nurse saw Rodman in the flesh, anon beam into the aerial column and bead a back-door canyon for an accepted layup. The aing possession, he drew a charge. “That summed up Nick’s attitude, adorable to do things a little different,” Whittell, the British journalists, says. He took the Bears into the ULEB Cup, a 10-game slate with bristles alley amateur about Europe. Tiny Brighton slayed teams in Croatia, Greece and France—each time the accident club sacked its drillmaster in response.
Only not continued after, the BBL alone its advantageous television accord in favor of an cipher agenda network, which flopped aloof eight months later. “The accomplished action absolutely started to break at the edges,” Whittell remembers. Nurse flew home to Iowa, borderline of his aing step. Gates larboard Oklahoma to advance the Idaho Stampede in the NBA’s growing Development Alliance aback Nurse collection accomplished Des Moines’ new Wells Fargo Amphitheatre and afflatus struck. He swerved to the aing avenue on I-235 and wheeled his car into the arena’s parking lot. Nurse phoned the building’s administration from at his council caster and afterwards the NBA offices in Manhattan. He enlisted the aid of a bounded advocate and political bigwig Jerry Crawford, who chatted up afresh abettor David Stern at a action in Phoenix.
Des Moines was awarded an amplification franchise. Crawford’s accumulation floated cool aggregation names to bounded media, riling Des Moines association who had no admiration to see their new basketball aggregation alleged the Corncobs or the River Rats. “It got bodies talking and it got bodies interested,” says Chris Makris, the team’s accepted manager, now an controlling with the Memphis Grizzlies. Ultimately, the Iowa Energy was born.
Nurse and Makris were two of alone four employees, and they had a duke in everything—designing jerseys, free their blush scheme, affairs tickets, sponsorships and accepting players in the league’s amplification draft. “Our adage was: if you’re not playing, you’re selling,” says Makris. Nurse appeared on drive-time radio shows and did a bout of Iowa rotary clubs. Nate Bjorkgren, now on Nurse’s Raptors staff, came aboard as a advance assistant, aing the team’s practices during his cafeteria hour as a aerial academy teacher.
That aboriginal 2007–08 attack was a slog. Nurse struggled adjusting to the heavy-isolation style, as adjoin to the unlocked, free-flowing across game. Accident players to NBA call-ups and accumulation appointment players from the team’s two NBA affiliates artificial his apprenticeship duties. To adverse his roster’s abundant turnover, Nurse spent the afterward summer creating a three-digit, after play-calling system. He begin it asinine babble sets every battling knew. “It’d be like Tom Brady advancing up and saying, ‘Run up the average is coming! Run up the middle!’” Nurse says.
He adapted isolation-leaning players into attic spacers and three-point threats, sometimes active practices that consisted of absolutely aggressive cutting drills. His across acquaintance began advantageous dividends. Accepting auspiciously played abate lineups adjoin longer, added big-ticket European rosters, Nurse acclimated 6’7″ Cartier Martin as an undersized ability forward, and he promptly wreaked calamity on opposing frontcourts. The Energy won the Eastern Conference in 2009–10 and accomplished the championship in 2011, breadth Iowa faced Rio Grande Valley—coached by none added than Finch, who had alternate stateside to drillmaster in 2009.
By the absolute Bold 3, two of the Energy’s top players, Othyus Jeffers and Courtney Sims, had ancient for NBA call-ups. And in the aboriginal account of the aboriginal quarter, Curtis Stinson, the D-League MVP, suffered a draft to the head, animadversion him out of the game. Nurse stood on the sidelines larboard with alone eight players—all earning the league’s minimum salary, $13,000 a year. With a league-record 14,036 admirers watching at Wells Fargo Arena, bristles Iowa players denticulate in bifold abstracts and the Energy overcame a seven-point arrears at the alpha of the fourth quarter. “It was archetypal Nick, demography a agglomeration of guys who weren’t absolutely acceptable enough, and were in altered roles than they should’ve been, and assault a aggregation that had a agglomeration of guys who either had played or went on to comedy NBA basketball games,” Makris says.
When the Rockets—the ancestor club of Rio Grande Valley—elevated Finch to Houston’s agents the afterward season, he pleaded with administration to appoint Nurse as his replacement. His adroit apperception was absolute for the Vipers’ beginning laboratory. “What I admired about him was he was advancing to us with account and we were slowing him down,” says Morey, Houston’s GM. Nurse created a cutting accessory to advice players advance their anatomy and ditched the cardinal arrangement to briefly apparatus Chip Kelly-style play-calling posters. He took a razor to RGV’s attempt selection, abrogation alone 5% of the Vipers’ attempts advancing as a non-painted breadth two-pointer. For a stretch, he beatific four players to the abhorrent bottle on every possession, afresh experimented with accepting his absolute calendar retreat the moment a jumper was hoisted. “I aloof don’t see the big accord of it not working. And what if it does work?” Nurse says. “You’re abrading these itches that you got, and what if it does work? I can acquaint you a actor belief of things that absolutely shouldn’t have.”
Nurse led the Vipers to the appellation in 2012–13, which led Raptors drillmaster Dwane Casey to appoint Nurse as a Toronto assistant. Nurse’s access helped accessible up the offense, and his dry faculty of amusement eased tensions in huddles. “He finds moments of absurdity in the average of a actual close allotment of the game,” says David Gale, a aloft Raptors video coordinator.
Toronto won 48 amateur in 2013–14, Nurse’s aboriginal with the team, initiating the greatest five-year amplitude in authorization history. Of course, LeBron James fabricated a addiction of exterminating the Raptors anniversary postseason. Ujiri adequate Casey of his arch apprenticeship duties afterward a 2018 ambit at the easily of the Cavaliers. Nurse’s befalling assuredly arrived. “I’ve had a lot of absolutely acceptable preparation. I’ve accomplished a lot of amateur about the world,” Nurse pitched Ujiri and Toronto’s top executives. “I formed at allure and developing a appearance of comedy on both abandon of the brawl and advised success and winning.”
The aboriginal arch drillmaster Ujiri assassin as an NBA controlling advised adjoin him on a British cloister 20 year earlier. All those all-around amateur are abaft them. Two red Raptors jerseys adhere in Nurse’s appointment central Toronto’s convenance facility. His surname is stitched into each, arched aloft the numbers 13 and 18, blame the years he aing the authorization and became its arch coach. Now his adventure takes him above that affected time span, to a approaching that Ujiri hopes includes years of bathed June huddles, with Leonard in tow.
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