BOOK EXCERPT: Rapture by Nick Nurse takes readers along for a basketball journey, detailing the challenges he faced along the way
Rapture: Fifteen Teams, Four Countries, One NBA Championship and How to Find a Way to Win -- Damn Near Anywhere by Nick Nurse hit shelves Oct. 13. The autobiography, written along with veteran author Michael Sokolove, touches on Nurse’s rise to stardom from Carroll, Iowa to an NBA champion head coach, with invigorating stops in between in England, Iowa and Texas, among many more. The book is much more than just a tale of basketball glory, it also deals with the challenges and pitfalls of becoming a better leader, how to handle altercations with your peers and what it takes to improve at a given craft. Nurse’s late mother, Marcella, was born on a farm just west of Churdan. The Nurse family kept that farm in possession, and still visits frequently.
The following excerpt details Nurse’s three-day interaction with Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson as they touch on philosophy and life as a whole. This piece can be found in chapter 9, titled “Flathead Lake, Montana.”
Rapture can be purchased online through most book retailers well as many other outlets throughout the world.
I decided at that moment, just get off your ass, man. Try to compete harder. Fight like hell. Try to learn more. Let’s read some more sports psychology books and figure out how to reach these guys another way. Let’s study winning. Let’s look at more tape of out-of-bounds plays so I can steal a couple more wins somewhere.
I think this current generation thinks sometimes that getting ahead is all about making contacts—write this guy an email, try to bump into this other guy at a camp or in a hotel lobby. And I’m not saying that’s not important. If I knew more people, things would have happened faster for me.
But you can’t skip the step of working your ass off and learning your craft. If you get the job you’re dreaming about, that’s great, but do you know how to do it? Did you really get yourself ready, or did all your energy just go into figuring out how to climb the ladder?
Phil (Jackson) got back to me quickly after Alex (McKechnie, Toronto’s director of sports science) put us together and asked me to fly out to talk with him where he lived, in Flathead Lake, Montana. He was in his early seventies and retired, having left his last NBA job, president of the New York Knicks, about a year before.
I flew to Glacier Park International Airport and made my way to a motel I had reserved in Flathead Lake without knowing how long Phil wanted to give me. An hour, a lunch, a day? I had no idea.
When I called to say I’d landed, he gave me directions to his local coffee shop. I had a semi-formal list of things I wanted to ask him about, but a conversation with him does not go in a straight line. We talked for a couple of hours, just circling around things about his life—him asking me about my life and career, different basketball people we both knew—and then after a while, he said, “Let’s go, man.”
We jumped in his truck and drove maybe a quarter of a mile before he stopped at this farm stand—it was cherry season there—and he bought this big-ass bag and plopped it down between us and rolled the windows down. And for the next two and a half hours, we proceeded to drive around the lake eating cherries.
And I’m there thinking, here I am, sitting with a guy I’ve studied for all these years—his coaching moves, time-outs, end- of-game strategies, the triangle—and I’m rolling around with him and spitting cherry pits out the window of his truck.
He finally dropped me back at my rental car and said, “Go shower up or do whatever you’ve got to do. Dinner’s at seven- thirty,” and told me where to meet him. We had dinner, then drove back to his place and sat on his deck, in these rocking chairs, until about eleven-thirty, and as I was leaving, he said, “Text me when you’re up.”
The next morning, I met him at the end of a long gravel road, and he was sitting there in one of those four-wheelers, an all-terrain vehicle, and I jumped in and he drove me out to this other cabin that he owns. It was right on the lake, and we talked on the deck for a couple of hours, grabbed some lunch, and when we came back, he said, “Let’s go down to the basement.”
He said somebody had just sent him some video of the Bulls championship runs—he hadn’t looked at it yet—and we just sat down there for a couple of hours, half watching it and just bull- shitting about basketball, his strategies back then, how the game has changed, where he thinks it’s going.
We got through the tapes and he said, “I’ll meet you again for dinner at the Italian place.” He was incredibly generous with his time. It ended up being a three-day visit, and it was helpful in getting my mind right for what was in front of me.
We didn’t talk much about the triangle offense. And besides, it would be a huge waste to get time with Phil and use it to just geek out on nuts-and-bolts basketball.
I’d ask him a question and he would circle the house for an hour before he got to an answer—but everything in between was well worth the time.
As a lot of people know, Phil is spiritual. He grew up in a strict Pentecostal household—his dad was a minister—and as an adult he has been attracted to Eastern faiths and Native American religious practices. (His best-known book is Sacred Hoops.) He wrote that the team area of the Bulls’ training site was where “the spirit of the team takes form” and was a “holy sanctuary. The place where the players and the coaches come together and prepare our hearts and minds for battle.”
In the time I spent with him in Montana, Phil, true to form, often mixed earthly basketball wisdom with something akin to spiritual guidance. What I took as his message was that lots of stuff was in my control as a coach, but that if I did not handle things correctly, heavenly forces would make sure I paid a price.
He cautioned me that I always had to put the needs of the group first—before myself or any individual. “First and foremost, don’t underestimate the basketball gods,” he said as we sat out on his deck one of those evenings. “What do I mean by that? Here’s what I mean. You’ve been hired to make every decision that’s best
for the team. If you don’t do that, you’re going to run into some godly problems.”
Another thing that he left me with was his advice on my interactions with players. There were times I’d need to be tough and raise my voice—and others when I’d have to be more like a gentle parent.
“I want you to imagine you got a sword in your hand,” he said. “You have one end that’s really sharp. You’re going to need to use that to prod them and get on their asses and motivate them and push them further. But every now and then, I want you to look at the handle of the sword. And that’s going to represent compassion. You’re going to have to understand where they’ve come from and what they’re going through at the moment.”
All successful coaches know what methods work for them. I couldn’t set out to be a copy of Phil Jackson or anyone else. I wanted to pick up what I could to adapt for myself.
Coaching a professional team always entails teaching some complex tactics. A normal fan, or even players at lower levels of basketball, are not going to fully grasp what we try to do on offense or defense. (I’ve got players who sometimes don’t!)