W5 profiles ‘The Coach’ Nick Nurse: COVID, interrupted

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TORONTO —
March 11, 2020 is a day seared into the memories of many. On that date, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and it’s when the reality of the disease finally hit home for a large number of North Americans, especially sports fans.

For several months prior to March 11, W5 had been following Nick Nurse, the wonder-coach of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. We met up in Minneapolis — the closest NBA city to Nurse’s birthplace of Carroll, Iowa. We visited Carroll and interviewed Nurse’s brother and high school football coach. And we were in Chicago in February to watch him coach at the 2020 All-Star game.

On the evening of March 11, cameraman Jerry Vienneau and I attended the launch of the Nick Nurse Foundation at a glitzy Toronto hotel. Nurse, a man of many interests and talents, was holding the event to raise money for children’s sports, literacy, and music programs. No one among the assembled guests, basketball players, and musicians could know what was about to happen.

Nurse, the musician-coach, took the stage with Canadian rock band The Arkells.

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse and The Arkells

But everything was about to change. Rudy Gobert, a player with the Utah Jazz, had tested positive for COVID-19. The NBA was suspending its basketball season.

W5 was asked to leave the event along with the rest of the media.

As players and other guests stared at their phones and filtered out of the venue, it felt like we were in the eye of the COVID storm.

“That was kind of the last day of freedom that we’ve all had. We were out and having a really amazing night,” Nurse explained to W5 correspondent Molly Thomas.

“It was kind of a shocking moment that the league had stopped and you kind of had to let all that sink in, what was going on next? And, well, we all know what happened next, as most of us stayed indoors for a long time after that.”

Four months later, the NBA bounced back in Orlando, Fla., with players and support staff sequestered on one campus to keep COVID at bay.

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse

But lockdown and COVID restrictions meant that W5’s fulsome interview with Nurse would be repeatedly delayed until January 2021.

After all that time, much has transpired. There was a lot to discuss – not just about Nurse’s amazing journey to get to the NBA – with years spent toiling, and winning, in Europe and in the NBA’s minor leagues. Not just about the coach’s legendary work ethic and record of success, the 2019 Raptors’ Championship run and his 2020 Coach of the Year Award. There were the killings of unarmed Black men and women that had led to Black Lives Matters protests and calls for justice. For Black players under Nurse’s watch, the stakes were high.

Toronto Raptors kneel during national anthem

“Probably the biggest thing I learned was hearing their own personal stories of run-ins that they had with law enforcement officers in their lives growing up. Then it becomes real to us when they share those stories,” Nurse told Molly Thomas.

It had taken ten months for W5 to finally get face-to-face with coach Nurse, over Zoom, of course.

But the past year and a decades-long career had taught him valuable lessons. Lessons and wisdom that Nurse graciously shared. It was worth the wait.

“The Coach” will air this Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET on CTV.