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What we learned from reading Nick Nurse's new book

Alex Wong
·7-min read

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has a book coming out on Oct. 13. Written with Michael Sokolove, “Rapture: Fifteen Teams, Four Countries, One NBA Championship, and How to Find a Way to Win—Damn Near Anywhere” takes a deep dive into Nurse’s personal and professional story, from growing up as the youngest of nine kids in Carroll, Indiana, to his short-lived basketball playing career, to his international sojourn as a head coach which eventually led him to becoming the coach who guided the Raptors to their first championship in 2019. There’s plenty to unpack about this book. So let’s get to it.

I’m pretty familiar with Nurse’s coaching journey. Why should I get this book?

If you’ve followed the Raptors closely the past two seasons, you probably know most of Nurse’s backstory. This book ties everything together. There was a concerted effort in this book to really highlight the experiences and people who helped inspire Nurse to become who he is, as a person and as a basketball coach.

Nurse cites several books, including Stuff Good Players Should Know: Intelligent Basketball from A to Z by Dick DeVenzio and Darrell Mudra’s Freedom in the Huddle: The Creative Edge in Coaching Psychology as influences for his coaching style. The X’s and O’s and janky defences is what Nurse is most well known for, but the book gives us a deeper understanding into the human aspect of coaching that Nurse seems very invested in as well.

Taking a page from Phil Jackson, Nurse bought a bunch of copies of DeVenzio’s book when he was named head coach of the Raptors and gave it to every player on the team. He did stop short of assigning them specific chapters to read or give them any quizzes.

How did Phil Jackson get the foreword in this book?

First of all, the foreword is titled Corn-Bred and Corn-Fed. Second, if you didn’t know, Nurse — through sports science guru Alex McKechnie — got connected to The Zen Master in the summer of 2018, and the two spent parts of three days on Flathead Lake in northern Montana talking about life and basketball. The connection might seem random at first, but zoom in closer and there are lots of similarities between Nurse and Jackson.

They both toiled in the minor leagues before becoming assistant coaches on contending teams, and both later took over and won the championship very early on in their NBA head coaching careers. They both consider themselves innovators when it comes to coaching, and certainly have their own unique style and sensibilities when it comes to running a team. They’re also both among the winningest coaches in NBA history. Nurse has the highest regular season winning percentage of all-time at the moment, at .721 through two seasons. Jackson, who coached for 20 years, had a .704 regular season winning percentage.

Oh, and they both coached Dennis Rodman.

Wait, Dennis Rodman?

Yup. When Rodman was filming Celebrity Big Brother in London, England in 2006, the 44-year-old played a couple games with the Brighton Bears of the British Basketball League. Nurse was the head coach at the time. There are a couple great stories about it in the book.

So we finally get all the British Basketball League stories we’ve been clamouring for.

To be honest, that’s what I wanted most from this book, and it didn’t disappoint. I really came to appreciate exactly how incredible Nurse’s coaching journey was after reading about it in detail and remembering he was once a player-coach, and later a player-part-owner while he was overseas. If anything, I wanted more Manchester Giants and London Towers stories even after reading all the chapters devoted to it. I could read about that part of Nurse’s coaching career forever.

What’s the coolest thing you learned about Nick Nurse?

Back in the day, Nurse ran a few shooting camps, and one of the things he did was design a basketball to serve as his teaching aid. The ball was red, white and blue, and he put a stripe down the middle to help shooters know exactly where to grip the ball. He called it The Nurse’s Pill. And yes, you can still acquire the pill on eBay.

How many musical references did you count in this book?

There’s an entire chapter devoted to his love of music. He also compares free flowing basketball to jazz.

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 17:  Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse waves to the crowd during the Toronto Raptors Victory Parade on June 17, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. The Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors 4-2 to win the 2019 NBA Finals.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 17: Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse waves to the crowd during the Toronto Raptors Victory Parade on June 17, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. The Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors 4-2 to win the 2019 NBA Finals. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

So, do we learn anything new about last season’s championship run?

Yes and no. If you’re a die-hard Raptors fan, you will be familiar with some of the stories in the book. Things I wish were discussed: the awkwardness and tension between Nurse and Dwane Casey after he was fired, DeMar DeRozan’s return to Toronto, Kawhi’s return to San Antonio, and what it’s like to coach Kyle Lowry on a day to day basis. These things are probably not so relevant to the main story that is Nurse’s personal journey and it might be hard to say too much about a team you’re still coaching, but some of us just want all of the behind-the-scenes drama and gossip.

We do, however, learn about things like what Kawhi told Nurse in their first meeting together, the first time Leonard spoke up about the lack of ball movement on offence during an early season film session and the team’s strategy on shutting down Joel Embiid in the second round. I won’t go into the details of these anecdotes and leave it to you to find out.

Oh, and the play Nurse drew up for Kawhi’s Game 7 shot came from a Hubie Brown DVD.

Wait, what?

Yeah. If you recall, Nurse said he got the OG Anunoby game-winning 3-point play in Game 3 against the Boston Celtics from an old Hubie Brown DVD. Well, turns out it wasn’t the first time a Raptors buzzer-beater was inspired by one of those old reliable instructional videos. For any aspiring coaches, the DVDs are still available online.

So the book isn’t really about his first year as head coach in the NBA?

From a Raptors perspective, aside from the championship season, Nurse does dive into some fun (and not so fun) details about his first few years as assistant coach, including how Masai Ujiri and the front office dealt with the aftermath of getting swept by the Washington Wizards in 2015.

Overall, it’s more about the overall journey, and I think that was Nurse's purpose in writing this book. It’s really a book about one man’s continued persistence in pursuit of being great at what he did, even when he wasn’t in the spotlight or earned millions of dollars, and the cliché applies here: it’s about the journey, not the destination.

What other random things are in the book?

I don’t want to spoil too much of it, so here’s a bunch of random people and things that show up in the book: Thelonius Monk, Chris Mullin, the Philadelphia Eagles, West Side Story and Hamilton.

Ok, lastly, what do you think is the most controversial thing that will come out of this book?

Nick Nurse shares his theory on why Fred VanVleet started making so many 3s in the last two rounds of the playoffs in 2019, and it has nothing to do with the birth of Fred Jr.

More Raptors coverage from Yahoo Sports