Nick Nurse: ‘I’m super proud to be an Iowan’
By BRANDON HURLEY
JEFFERSON - Back like he never left.
Though Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse may lay claim to an NBA title, his hometown roots remain as strong as ever.
The former Kuemper Catholic Knight and Northern Iowa Panther made his much anticipated return home to Iowa Sunday, drinking in a festive atmosphere among 500 or so of his closest friends at Wild Rose Casino.
The journeyman head coach was the guest of honor, celebrating the remarkable achievements of the once “Iowa High School Athlete of the Year.”
Spirits were joyous and congratulatory as Nurse made his first public appearance in his home state following the Raptors decisive 4-2 win over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals June 13.
Nurse fielded questions from the media for 30 minutes, then enjoyed a friendly, comedic style roast and celebration as former colleagues, high school teammates, brothers and business partners shared stories of the 2019 NBA Finals champion.
Governor Kim Reynolds made an appearance to proclaim June 30, 2019 as Nick Nurse Day, citing his long and successful career as a testament to hard work and determination.
Nurse spoke glowingly of his festive reception, citing the return as one of the most memorable parts of the championship after-glow. Texts and calls coupled with the wild celebrations have certainly allowed the coach to gain a further grasp on the magnitude of his achievements.
“If I could say what was my biggest thrill of this whole thing is to share it with everybody,” Nurse said during a press conference Sunday afternoon. “All the people from the crazy stops along the way, the Iowa Energy, Northern Iowa, pockets of people who were following the games, praying and hoping. That was the best part.”
Though he may have always dreamt of winning an NBA title, the long journey to the top has taken a bit to sink in. There’s no manual on how to celebrate, the coach said. He’s been taking in the excitement as it comes ever since the Raptors wrapped up the title in Oakland.
“It’s set in a little bit. Since it’s been over, I didn’t really plan that part,” Nurse said. “t’s been a little wild. Visualizing it but when when the buzzer sounds, I didn’t really think about it. The city and the country is excited, and all these things have happened since.
He continued, “The last two weeks have been the busiest of the season. It’s been great, a lot of celebrations, a lot of hugs, a lot of smiles and high fives. Well wishes on the street. It’s been pretty good.”
Iowa will always have a place in Nurse’s heart, from his glory days in the Kuemper Catholic gym, to setting shooting records at UNI all the way to not only ushering an NBA minor league team into Des Moines, but bringing the Iowa Energy a championship. As the only head coach to win both a G League title and an NBA championship, Nurse has never lost sight of his roots.
“I’m super proud to be an Iowan, I’ve always said that,” the coach said. “I love coming home and I obviously have lived in the state a lot. With Carroll, Kuemper, Des Moines and Cedar Falls, there are still a lot of good family, friends and classmates around.
I hear from them a lot and it’s really humbling to hear from those groups. They are following and watching. I try not to think about it ‘Geez, everybody in Iowa is watching this game.’ It makes you a little nervous.”
Former Kuemper Catholic head coach Wayne Chandlee was one of many guest speakers to express their gratitude and appreciation for the career basketball lifer. Chandlee helped push the Knights to their only basketball state championship back in 1985. He spent 12 years in Carroll and quickly became one of Nurse’s most beloved mentors. Donning a red and gold shirt reading “Yes, I’m from Carroll, and yes, I know Nick Nurse,” the 80-year old coaching legend ripped off a bevy of memories and jokes.
Nurse and Chandlee have remained close since Nurse’s high school days, they’v become quite the duo over the years.
“Our 1985 team was kind of like Nick’s team (this year),” he said. “I had kids that came to practice every day, played hurt, they were smart, they were focused.
Chandlee continued, “They did everything right. They were so focused, I think coach Nurse could’ve won some games with them. Nick will succeed in everything he wants to.”
Nurse posed with the trophy following the celebration, encouraging fans to join him for rare photo ops. It was a true test of Iowa humility, and a testament to his upbringing, one of nine Nurse children. Two words hit home during his 10 minute speech to fans, which began with a joke and ended in inspiration.
“Dream big, that’s all I can say” Nurse said. “Because sometimes they come true.”
Why not? If a small town guy from Carroll, Iowa can reach the top of the NBA, there’s certainly hope for us all.