Raptors coach Nick Nurse on finding new ways to make a statement

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The dominant conversation in the NBA right now is about athletes using their platforms for greater good. But it isn’t just players making an impact. Since the league recommenced its season in Orlando, Nick Nurse has been doing his part as a coach.

The NBA’s coach of the year has led the charge for the Toronto Raptors in raising awareness about voter registration for Americans living abroad, and his foundation has continued to empower youth through music, sports and literacy. But it’s what Nurse has done to use the attention on him at the Wide World of Sports Complex to help spotlight others that might be most instructive.

If you’ve watched the Raptors over the last month, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the Black Lives Matter masks many of them are wearing with the silhouette of Toronto’s skyline on them. Those masks are made by local Toronto artist Nadia Lloyd, and Nurse made them famous by not only wearing one to his press availabilities but distributing them to his whole team.

That massive exposure has not only benefitted the artist but the cause, as well, as a portion of proceeds from the sale of the masks goes to Black Lives Matter Toronto.

I caught up with Nurse talk about the masks and the impact they’ve made.

SPORTSNET: How did you hear about Nadia Lloyd and her masks?

NURSE: My wife, Roberta, contacted me. Nadia lives just around the corner from us in Liberty Village. Roberta heard about her on Facebook. And then I said, “Sounds like an awesome project. Let’s support her and let’s see if we can help her. Let’s buy for everybody, for the whole organization — everybody that’s down here in the bubble.”

We thought we could use some nice reminders of Toronto, and certainly it is nice doing a lot of Black Lives Matters things here.

SN: How many people did you actually purchase them for?

NURSE: Thirty-seven at the time. I think we had 17 players down here and 20 staff [at the time].

SN: What was the reaction from the group?

NURSE: It was good. We were getting a lot of masks and stuff, you know — the NBA was giving us wonderful stuff. It took a minute to get [Lloyd’s masks] shipped here. But now the guys love them. You could tell because they started wearing them. And they’re still wearing them a lot and a lot of them wear them every day, especially the day of their press conferences and stuff. I kind of circled them all up and told them it’s a gift from me. “This is what I’m doing to support a local artist and local small business back in Toronto. And I just wanted to spread the love with you guys and give you a cool mask to wear on top of it.”

SN: It seems like you’ve really been particularly intentional with what you’re wearing in the bubble — not just the mask: You wore a shirt with “vote” written on it. You wore a WNBA hoodie. You wore shirts with names of Black people who have been killed by police. You’ve made a statement with your clothing. Why?

NURSE: It’s my platform, right? I get in front of the camera a lot, with all the press conferences and things, [but] I didn’t really think much of it, to be honest, until a year ago. We got to the Finals and it kind of started with this hat, and everybody started making a big deal and it just kind of went from there. [I do it to support] some things I believe in that are close to my heart. And it’s a simple way to spread those messages.

SN: You better be careful. People will be pitching you to wear stuff and to support different causes. You’re going to mess around and look like a NASCAR driver soon.

NURSE: I looked like that today, I think. But that’s okay. That’s okay.

SN: You said something at the championship parade that really stuck with me: “The world needs more Canada.” What did you mean by that?

NURSE: I just think Canadian people’s outlook on many facets of life is awesome. I mean, Canada’s not perfect. But I get a sense of some great diversity and some great getting along between many groups from all over the world. You get a sense of some really good people, right? I get a sense of some tremendous pride about being from Toronto or being from Canada. There’s a good feel about a lot that Canada is, [that] Canada has to offer. I read that quote a lot. It’s on the second floor of our arena, near where I [enter on game days]. It was Bono who said it [originally], you know, and I stopped and read it almost every game. It has always stuck with me and I don’t know, it just felt like the right moment to say it. I’ve talked to people about how much I like that quote, and it just kind of came to me on the spur of the moment.

SN: Your organization has been really intentional about saying the words and showing the fact that Black Lives Matter. For people who haven’t embraced that term like you have, what would you say to them? What are they not understanding?

NURSE: Either you’re supporting it or you’re not. The silence is deafening sometimes, too. So, I think I would say pick up a hat, pick up a mask, pick up a T-shirt. Be a part of this generation or this historic movement. I think it’s like a walk of life that we all need to become involved in.

SN: Do you think organizations have a role in inspiring fans, or do you and your team draw inspiration from the fans that you play for?

NURSE: That’s a great question. I think “yes” is the answer both ways, right? For sure we draw inspiration and energy and motivation and everything from the fans. It’s just something that’s so deeply ingrained. I’ll never forget, like, the whole way that thing developed and took over Canada last year. It was really, really something to be a part of. And just on the other hand, I think people look to our teams for motivation. How they carry themselves, how they perform, how hard they play — even for work ethic, character, discipline that they can take to their lives. And I also think that sometimes we just are a great escape for people, right? Like they can’t wait to get home from work, turn on the TV and cheer on the Raptors. And feel good about how this team represents a city. And that’s really all I ever care about, man. I want the team to be something the city and the nation can be proud of. You know, most nights when we hit the floor, they should have a good feeling about the team.