Musings from the sports desk: The ties of The Rapture, the Nick Nurse autobiography, cut remarkably deep
By Brandon Hurley
I didn’t write a book. I am not an author, yet.
But, I now have a good idea of how thrilling, exhausting and frustrating the process is. Regardless, the method behind the madness was a pleasure to endure.
To be blunt with you all, I am closely tied to The Rapture: Fifteen Teams, Four Countries, One NBA Championship and How to Find a Way to Win, the Nick Nurse autobiography hitting shelves Tuesday, Oct. 13. (You can find it on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble or any major book-seller)
While I did not author Nurse's life story, an inspirationally enthralling book (That honor goes to the talented, and multiple-time author Michael Sokolove, constructed from the memories and anecdotes from Mr. Nurse himself), I did have a heavy hand in creating the masterpiece (let's hope the public views it the same). How Sokolove was able to fit all of Nick's stories into a well-written and thorough book is still mind-blowing to me. My official title, if you will, was lead researcher. My name is even included on the title page inside the book... dope. I was the coach, if you will.
I initially piloted the grassroots effort and relayed much of the information only an Iowan could share, though it also required me to dig even deeper into the Nick Nurse journey. I steered the plane above the runaway, and allowed the experts to take over and land.
Allow me to pen my own prologue, a piece which obviously never made it into the official pages of the book. This, ladies and gentlemen, is for all of you avid readers. A little nugget of encouragement.'
Compiling the pieces of an autobiography is no easy task, and I didn't even have the hardest job. It really is a bumpy journey. From tracking down agents (and visiting them in person in New York), to fact-checking, interviewing, writing and locking down a publisher, it certainly is a long and winding road. This all began around Christmas of 2018. Some days, it felt like 24 months really blown by, while at times, I wondered if this book would ever hit the shelves. We powered through, bursting across the finish line with confidence.
There’s not much left to say about Nick Nurse that hasn't been covered in our stories, long-form features or the book itself. His elongated rise has been beautifully laid out in these very same pages, yet Nurse continues to defy expectations. Heck, we could've added a whole entire chapter on how Nurse and the Raptors excelled in a pandemic, trying to defend their only championship in history. There's always time for an update, isn't there?
I first met Nick at a mundane sports bar in Indianapolis while he was a top assistant with the same Canadian franchise. He generously provided me with a couple of hours mere moments before the Raptors were set to take on the Pacers. My first impressions left me intrigued, but definitely not in awe. Here was this unassuming Iowan with clear knowledge of the sport. He possessed grand ideas, and you could sense if given the chance, he could certainly make some waves. He was passionate, empathetic and smart, though by all indications he did not exude the characteristics of a soon-to-be champion. We likely sized each other up, Nick possibly wondering who this giddy, small-town, NBA-crazed journalist was attempting to pick his brain. Admittedly, I was a bit in awe, hoping to force NBA coverage into my regular repertoire, latching onto what would become one of the cooler stories of the decade. Nick was on the brink of a head coaching job in the world’s greatest basketball league (though he was still a few months from the interview process), so I’m sure he wasn’t too concerned with who I was. Either way, he still gave his hometown newspaper plenty of content. That's damn cool.
Nurse's underdog story really is the stuff of legends. There’s nothing that compares in the NBA, and likely, it’ll be rather difficult to duplicate. Think about the odds. A man raised in the cozy confines of Carroll, Iowa, population a little more than 10,000, somehow managed to break free, not only to excel at nearly every stop along the way (And there were some odd ones – Belgium and later co-owner of an English team), but he succeeded well enough to become an NBA head coach, and win a championship in his first year.
I’ll let Nick and the legendary Phil Jackson (he wrote the foreword for The Rapture, no big deal. They are buds now, too.) delve into what specifically makes Nurse a great coach, my role here is to wax poetically about his overall exceptionalism and to dish out a few gratitudes. Nurse continues to defy the odds. His Raptors were expected by many to miss the playoffs all together this year, only to secure the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference while Nick himself earned Coach of the Year honors.
Nurse and I were the two main constants throughout this whole ordeal, though I'd be remise if I did not pass out my own thank yous. A piece of art like this is not accomplished alone. Great things rarely are ever done solo.
First of all, I must show tremendous gratitude to the great "Chuckie O" Chuck Offenburger. The current Cooper resident and former Des Moines Register columnist first pitched a book idea to my boss, Doug Burns, who then relayed it to me. Without Offenburger's interest in Nurse's story, there may not be an autobiography on shelves today. Which leads me to my next thank you, Mr. Burns himself. The co-owner of both the Carroll Times Herald and the Jefferson Herald urged me to pursue the book, even acknowledging that it may take time away from my No. 1 profession, though he felt it was a certified slam dunk to tell this heart-warming story. (I must admit, Nick's meteoric success tied in nicely to our general sports coverage, so I feel my attention to the newspapers of the Carroll Times Herald and the Jefferson Herald never wavered. Heck, my dedication blossomed even more, but this is not the time.) Doug allowed me to travel to Toronto, by car, to cover the NBA Finals and to Milwaukee for two games the series prior. I even attended the 2020 NBA All-Star game in Chicago. That was a hell of an experience as well. What small-town newspaper does that in today's climate? Not many. For that, I am beyond thankful.
Multi-time New York Times best-selling author Jeff Pearlman also deserves a mention. I tossed up a prayer from half court, sending an email his way a few years ago, asking how crazy it is to want to write a book. I didn't expect a response, but I figured it didn't hurt to ask. Boy, did that shot ever find the bottom of the net. Instead of ignoring me or firing back with a canned response, he encouraged me. The author of books on Barry Bonds, Walter Payton and the Showtime Lakers loved the idea. Pearlman even put me in touch with his agent. Just... wow. I'd never been so honored and pleasantly surprised in my life. A young man had snuck his way into the tournament of a lifetime. Thank you, Jeff. (P.S., go buy his new book, "Three Ring Circus" about the Kobe and Shaq Lakers, out now. He's a hell of a researcher). The David Black Agency and Matt Belford, specifically, have been exceptional as well. They knew the big boys and handled all the red tape. Initially, I tossed around the idea of producing a Nick Nurse biography through a local, independent publisher. I did not envision having this go mainstream. Wow, I'm glad it did. Matt has handled all my off-the-wall questions and concerns with grace. David pushed Nick to really commit. Thank you, fellas. You're the best.
My family has been extremely supportive throughout this process as well. They are who I owe the most to, they are the role players who deserve a huge chunk of the credit. I'm sure they didn't expect me to avidly watch every Raptors game possible, even taking time out of vacations to watch the playoffs. Game 6 of the 2019 Eastern Conference comes to mind, in which my parents, son, girlfriend and I packed into a small, Okoboji bar to watch the Raptors clinch a trip to the Finals on a tiny TV screen, hooting and hollering while my bored son asked to go home. That was an experience, but it was a blast. My girlfriend, Sarah, has dealt with my constant complaining, brainstorming and general fandom throughout. I'm sure she was annoyed often, and tired quickly from my constant raving of Nurse and the Raptors. But, holy crap, she endured, and became my Scottie Pippen to my Michael Jordan (yes, I just did that). She played tremendous defense and really knew when to drive encouragement home. She and my family as a whole have been incredibly supportive. On days I may have felt the end was never going to arrive, they helped me realize we were closer to the finish than the beginning. Thank you. Absolutely, you're my heroes.
Naturally, the person I need to thank most is Nick Nurse himself. Without him not only agreeing to support a book project, but throwing himself into it, this would probably still be on the ground level. His commitment was truly a blessing. A newly-minted NBA coach had no need to invest any time to a project outside his normal duties, and for that, I'm extremely grateful. Nick has always maintained a strictly professional relationship throughout all this. Our roles haven't really changed much. We still realize what we each are trying to achieve with our day jobs. I've stayed committed to telling his continuing story, and he never shies away from my questions in media scrums, nor does he provide me with preferential treatment, either. I have a responsibility to my profession to record his story, and I believe Nick respects that. I have tremendous gratitude for that.
At times, the narrow, tight rope we walked together made the book a challenge, but we managed to overcome it.
For a true basketball fan at heart, growing closer to the game has been a pleasure. I respect and admire the coaching profession more than I ever have before. I understand better what goes into specific offensive and defensive schemes. This process has also expanded my love for reading. Hopefully, I can grow as a writer and reporter because of it. This may sound like a humble brag, but bringing a story like this to life has been eye-opening. It was a blast, and there's more to come.
Go read, folks. You won't regret it.