Nick Nurse made history by guiding the Raptors to their first NBA title, in his rookie season as an NBA head coach no less. He then helped Toronto not only move on after losing the Finals MVP of that team, Kawhi Leonard, but thrive with a cast of game veterans and franchise-grown talent.
From his childhood in Iowa to his status as one of the most respected coaches in the NBA, here are 10 things to know about Nick Nurse.
Iowa born and raised: Before leading “The North,” Nurse was as American Midwest as it gets. One of nine kids born to Maury and Marcella Nurse in Carroll, Iowa, Nurse was raised by a father who coached youth basketball and Little League baseball.
All-around athlete: There were few sports Nurse didn’t try. The future NBA coach started on the mount and under center for his high school football teams while qualifying for the state pole vault competition. Oh yeah, and Nurse’s Kuemper Knights also took home the state 3A basketball championship.
(Un)lucky break: No one ever wants to see a peer go down with injury, but it was because an All-State guard broke his rib at the Iowa All-Star game that Nurse got a chance to show what he could do. Moving from backup to starter in the game, his performance (“27 points or something,” he said) immediately got him an offer to play at Northern Iowa.
Sharp-shooter: Nurse remains the top career 3-point shooter ever to don a Northern Iowa jersey. The former Panthers point guard shot 170-for-363 (46.8%) from downtown over his four years with the team.
Player-coach: Nurse knew he wanted to keep his basketball career going by either playing or coaching. He wound up doing both for the Derby Rams of the British Basketball League — all at age 23.
O’er the pond and back again: Nurse made several crossings between continents to hone his coaching chops. His resume includes stops in Iowa, South Dakota, England, Belgium and Oklahoma.
D League Determination: Intent on making his NBA breakthrough, Nurse relentlessly contacted league personnel until coming across a brand-new stadium in Des Moines, Iowa. More phone calls finally resulted in the league opening an expansion team: the Iowa Energy. Their first head coach: Nick Nurse.
Building a rep: Nurse didn’t hastily use his D-League (now the G League) time as a stepping stone to the NBA. He excelled, winning the 2011 Coach of the Year award and D-League championships with two different teams.
Raptors come calling: All that D-League success led to Toronto hiring Nurse to its coaching staff in 2013. His laboratory was the film room, where he spent inordinate hours that eventually paid off; Nurse received much credit for the Raptors’ improving offense, which produced 59 regular-season wins in 2017-18.
He’s the guy: Toronto’s search for a new head coach in the summer of 2018 was thorough. Bigger names with past NBA head coaching experience were reported. Turns out the guy the Raptors needed was already there. When he was told he had the job, Nurse told only his wife. Someone, however, apparently leaked the news. “I got to the office 15 minutes later — probably rode my bike over — and I had 259 text messages.”