Raptors Rapture: Coach Nick Nurse chronicles journey to NBA title in new book

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TORONTO —
After Kawhi Leonard’s remarkable buzzer-beater to beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on May 12, 2019, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse went home, changed his newborn’s diaper and went to bed.

The rest of Canada celebrated.

Now known as “the shot,” the historic moment has taken on a life of its own. The jump shot from the corner that bounced an improbable four times on the rim before dropping in was immediately embraced as a defining moment in Canadian sports history. It is the only Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA playoff history and it created a path to this country’s first NBA championship two weeks later.

But the calm and affable Nurse, 53, told CTV’s Your Morning Friday that he went home to do his part with his week-old son. He was tired after a long game anyway.

It’s just one of many anecdotes, reflections, and lessons and Nurse shares in his new book “Rapture: Fifteen Teams, Four Countries, One NBA Championship, and How to Find a Way to Win — Damn Near Anywhere.”

In the book released this week, Nurse chronicles his childhood as the youngest of nine kids growing up in Carroll, Iowa, and his 28 years of coaching before being named head coach of the Raptors in 2018.

Nurse said he didn’t think it would be a full-scale book when writer Michael Sokolove pitched telling his story.

“Then we had that incredible run, that incredible season and we had to add a few more chapter and it seemed like a good time to get it out there.”

“Rapture” chronicles Nurse’s approach to coaching, and what he’s learned as a student of leadership and sports psychology, taking fans courtside and into the locker room.

He writes about an elephant he keeps in his office, a reminder that sometimes it’s better to just confront the elephant in the room. Players embraced it, he says, pointing to it or grabbing it before sitting down for a chat.

“I knew it was something fairly major (they) wanted to talk about. It was kind of a good icebreaker.”

The Raptors’ early exit from this year’s playoffs, losing in seven games to the Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals, was disappointing, says Nurse, and it took him time to come back from that.

He says he doesn’t get mad his players, but he’s hard on himself. He replays the decisions he made and thinks about what he could have done differently.

Nurse’s path to an NBA job – and earning coach of the year for 2019-2020 – has been long and winding, including stops with youth programs, college ball, NBA D-League and about a decade with several teams in England’s pro league.

Nurse says he’s loved every job along the way and has thrown everything he’s had into each one. He was always focused on getting better and landing an NBA job. But even if he wasn’t convinced it would happen, he was going to be ready if it did.

Coaching legend Phil Jackson, someone Nurse looks up to, provided the foreword for the book. He says Nurse has made a career of proving people wrong, but Nurse said that’s not his approach.

“I kind of like to do it the other way and just prove yourself right,” he said. “I don’t think proving people wrong is any way to get out of bed every day.”

Nurse, a musician who holds a master’s degree and is working on a PhD, shared on CTV’s Your Morning Friday that the glasses he wears while coaching are fakes. He started wearing them at the behest of his late mother, who demanded he put them back on after he got laser eye surgery because she struggled to spot him on TV.

Since then, Nurse has achieved not only the highest winning percentage in franchise history, but the NBA’s highest regular season winning percentage of all-time at .721 through two seasons.

When asked if he ever thought his route to fulfilling his dream of an NBA job would ever come through Toronto, Nurse says it’s worked out perfectly.

He used to often stop on his way back from England and spend days at basketball camps in Toronto, a city he says suits him.

“I used to say, ‘Man, if I could ever get a job here I would love to come to Toronto.’ Maybe I put it out there a long time ago and it came true.”

Whenever the NBA’s next season begins, the Raptors could look significantly different.

Key players, including Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, are heading into free-agency and centre Marc Gasol has already departed.

But Nurse says he’s ready for anything.

“I’m ready to keep winning and keep this thing rolling and make this a unique and special team.”