Nick Nurse helped guide the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 NBA title by knocking off the Golden State Warriors June 13. FILE PHOTO

Iowa’s new favorite son, Nick Nurse, to be celebrated at event hosted by Gary and Sue Kirke of Wild Rose

Nurse is second Iowa coach to win an NBA championship

A lot of people followed the journey of Nick Nurse from high school basketball standout to NBA championship coach – Gary and Sue Kirke were among them for completely different reasons. Gary Kirke, chairman and founder of Wild Rose Casino, believed in Nurse enough to be one of the first investors in the Iowa Energy, the NBA D-League team that Nurse helped start and win a league championship in 2011. Sue Kirke went to high school with Nurse at Carroll Kuemper Catholic High School, where he led his team to the school’s only high school championship in 1985. 

“We watched every game in the playoffs and the series,” Gary Kirke said. “Here’s a guy from Carroll, Iowa, doing something only eight other people have ever done.”

Sue Kirke concurs, “It was beyond exciting. I still remember the night Kuemper won the state championship. That was so great, and this is better. What a journey for Nick; we are so happy for him and the whole Nurse family.”

On Sunday, June 30, the Kirkes and Wild Rose Casino in Jefferson are hosting a hero’s welcome home for the Iowa native: “Nick Nurse’s Journey from Carroll to Toronto.”  

The event will be held at the Greene Room at the Wild Rose Casino & Resort in Jefferson. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the program, emceed by “Voice of the Hawkeyes” Gary Dolphin, starts at 6 p.m. 

The program features a catalogue of speakers going back to Nurse’s days at Carroll Kuemper, through his own collegiate playing career at the University of Northern Iowa and his rise from a college assistant to head coach of the Toronto Raptors. Jerry Crawford, founder of the Iowa Energy, will be at the podium to honor Nurse.  

Some refer to Nurse’s career in terms of meteoric rise, but Gary Kirke interjects that everything Nurse accomplished was the result of hard work, tenacity and uncompromising passion. 

“When I invested in the Energy, I could see Nick Nurse had a real fire in his belly,” Gary Kirke recalls. “But it’s important to point out that this is a big story in part because no one gave Nick anything. He pushed and fought and demonstrated time and again that he was ready for the NBA, and he was ready to win.”


Classmates, teammates and coaches talk about how much Nurse loves basketball, so much so that he never left the game. After serving as an assistant coach for UNI, he moved across the pond in 1990 to be a player-coach for the Derby Storm in the British Basketball League. He returned to the U.S. to be an assistant coach with Grand View University. After two years, he left to be an assistant coach for the University of South Dakota.

In 1995, Nurse headed back to the United Kingdom where he stayed for more than 10 years working for five different teams before moving to Des Moines to lead the Iowa Energy. Nurse won the D-League championship in front of the highest community attendance in the league. Then he moved to Texas to lead the Rio Grande Vipers, which had finished second to the Energy. With the Vipers, Nurse won his second D-League championship before being hired by the Toronto Raptors as an assistant coach. He was made head coach of the Raptors in June 2018.

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