THE EARLY LEAD | From greyhounds to Mamma Nurse, a night of memories at Wild Rose
By BRANDON HURLEY
JEFFERSON - Mom and dad sure would’ve loved this night.
Sunday’s victory celebration was less a night about basketball and more about a journey that has touched hundreds. An inspiring tale that launched a thousand dreams. It was absolutely one to remember. Excuse the masses for relishing in this one a bit longer than usual.
Laughs and smiles abound were showered upon Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse during a welcome home party Sunday, June 30 at Wild Rose.
And it’s fitting, of course, that one of the area’s grandest celebrations took place not even 15 minutes from the family farm. Seeing as Marcella Nurse, who passed away in December at the age of 94, couldn’t make it, Nurse, the youngest of nine felt it necessary to visit her birthplace in Churdan prior to the festivities. I’m sure there was a bag of Doritos waiting for him. His father, Maury, passed away in 2015, but he still earned a spot on the guest list, his spirit carried on through the many Nurse kids
The laughs were plentiful, and so was the nostalgia Sunday night. It’s not too hard to envision how important relationships have been to Nurse throughout his career, heck he has a Storm Lake native, Nate Bjorkgren as one of his top assistants, but the Wild Rose stories solidified how much of an impact he’s had on others.
It’s not often the world produces a coach so beloved by all. But when we Iowans are blessed with the opportunity, we never forget our roots.
Nurse was in one heck of a good mood Sunday night, and deservedly so. The Carroll native held a half hour press conference, opening with remarks of his mom’s family farm, fielding questions on Kawhi Leonard and the victory celebration, before enjoying two hours of light-hearted ribbing and reflection.
There were stories. Oh, they were delightful.
If you know anything about Nurse, the former state champion and UNI Panther, there’s always something rather captivating going on behind the scenes. Sunday’s shin-dig was a chance escape the savage heat and catch a glimpse into the many lives the coach has touched, as well the joyous encounters he’s produced with everyone he’s come in contact with.
Spend any amount of time with Nurse, the youngest of nine children, and you’re sure to have a sweet tale to fall back on.
It’s just what he does.
It may seem rather cliche, but the welcome home celebration was one of those moments you really had to be there to gain a true appreciation for. Of course, there was the NBA Finals hardware, the Larry O’Brien trophy ever so delicately displayed on stage all night, it’s wonderful golden hue radiating throughout the room, but it was the varying guests of honor who stole the show.
And heck, never one to fall short on things to say, Nurse had some fun as well. He dropped a few, not-exactly-safe-for-work jokes, and shared hugs and hand shakes from many of his closest admirers.
From the humorous day Nurse met his college roommate Mike Finger and their ensuing trips to the dog track, to the home cooked meals and hospitality of Momma Nurse, there was something for everyone young and old, sister and brother. The common theme that popped up time and time again was how humble, yet confident, Nurse has remained during his incredible rise to the top. He always seemed to take a friend under his wing, and he’s never been afraid to latch onto a new mentor.
The “Voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes” Gary Dolphin painted a tremendous picture of the overall pride throughout the state, capturing the immense magnitude of Nurse’s world championship while ushering in each spectacular guest. He also shared words of wisdom from various coaching legends who could not make it out to Jefferson.
There were almost too many legends in attendance to name, as former Kuemper Catholic head coach Wayne Chandlee flipped the event into high gear, paving the way for former Nurse roommates Mike Finger and Jeff Burris, lifelong friend and Kuemper graduate Frank Molak as well as coaching colleagues Orv Salmon, Steve Forbes and Kevin Lehman. Each one of them graced the stage, sharing their thoughts on what made Nurse unique in addition to their favorite moments with the champion. Most of the tales ended in laughs or inspiration. That’s the thing, Nurse has never been to conjure up ill will or a bleak outlook, he’s more of a glass half full kind of guy.
“I’ve been around a lot of really good coaches and I recognized right away that (Nurse) was really special,” Salmon said, who coached with Nurse in Manchester, England. “He’s incredibly bright, intuitive and he relishes a challenge.
Nick doesn’t have a counterfeit bone in his body and players respect that.”
For man who was skeptical to take the microphone, Salmon sure gave quite the rousing speech, reminiscing about their days spent touring the English countryside, scouting future Manchester Giants opponents. Even if the speedometer on M1 hit 95 MPH, Nurse was still directing out of bounds plays as if there were five seconds left in the game.
“I don’t love public speaking, but I love Nick Nurse,” the Cedar Falls native said. “No one has loved the game more than me, and that’s what connected me with him.”
If that doesn’t describe who Nurse is, I don’t know what else does. A desire to win and an infatuation with basketball that led him to all corners of the earth, does it get more genuine than that?