Nick Nurse’s Unique Journey to an NBA Head Coach

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PERTH, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 16: Nick Nurse, head coach of Canada Basketball looks on during the International Basketball Friendly match between Australian Boomers and Canada at RAC Arena on August 16, 2019 in Perth, Australia.

Nick Nurse will go down in history for his monumental accomplishment. He won an NBA championship in his first year as a head coach.  Nurse became the ninth coach ever to do this last June. He joined several greats, including Pat Riley, Steve Kerr, and Tyronn Lue, among others. He is now the only person to win a D-League and NBA Championship as head coach. When Nurse was promoted to head coach of the Raptors, many people had no idea who he was. But his story became apparent throughout the 2018/19 season. He has become even more successful in the 2019/20 season and is considered to be a leading candidate for coach of the year. His journey to this success took many years and was abnormal, to say the least.

Nurse’s Origins

Nurse first started coaching in the final year of his undergraduate studies at Northern Iowa. He was an assistant coach for that year before graduating and taking a job in England as a player-coach for the Derby Rams. In 1991, Nurse got his first full-time head coaching job at Grand View University in Iowa. He was only 23 at the time. Nurse was the youngest head coach in the country. He then moved on to an assistant coaching role at the University of South Dakota. After that, he would embark on a long journey through Europe.

Nurse spent eleven years coaching throughout Europe. He spent most of his time in England but also spent time in Belgium. He won several awards for his achievements along the way, as well as multiple championships. Nurse has consistently credited his time abroad as part of his success. In an interview with USA Today, he said, “So, all those stops — I don’t know how many years it was, 18, 20 years — of being a head coach, and in some pretty remote places, was still a valuable learning experience for me from just running and managing the team and being up in front of a team and preparing scouting reports and trying to figure out chemistry and lineups and schemes.” 

In 2007, Nurse returned to North America, getting the job for head coach of the Iowa Energy. He was again immensely successful in the D-League (now named the G-League). Nurse won the Coach of the Year award and the championship. After that stint, he moved on to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. With the Vipers, the Houston Rockets’ affiliate, Nurse won another championship. 

Beginnings in the NBA

Nurse’s success caught the eye of Dwane Casey and the Raptors, who gave him a role as an assistant coach. His primary purpose was to be in charge of the offense. He was credited mainly for their three-point calibrated attack in the 2017/18 season. That year, the Raptors won a franchise-record 59 wins. The rest is history. 

During the 2019/20 season, Nurse has been praised for his creativity mainly on the defensive side of the ball. Despite the numerous injuries to key players, the Raptors rank as the second-best team in the league in defensive efficiency. During the suspension, Nurse revealed his friendship with coaching legend Phil Jackson. In an interview on The Boardroom, Nurse said he spent three days in Montana with Jackson after he was hired as head coach of the Raptors. “When we won the championship Game 6 at Golden State, one of the first texts I got was from him, it just said ‘champs’ with a little trophy beside it, so that was pretty cool.”

Nick Nurse has always gotten the best out of his players. His countless years of coaching around the world and coaching a variety of types of players no doubt has led him to where he is today. Nurse’s success during the 2019/20 season will likely get him the Coach of the Year award. His creativity and drive have earned him the highest win percentage as a coach of all-time at .712, just ahead of Steve Kerr. The NBA is just seeing the beginning of a unique and memorable career from Nick Nurse. 

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