THE EARLY LEAD: A grueling NBA road trip produces whirlwind ride
By BRANDON HURLEY
There’s always a story, no matter where you look.
Wow, remarkable opportunities a little 28-hour, 1,600 mile road trip can generate. I love to talk, but man, I was almost at a loss for words once it was all in the rear view mirror.
I may be a minor Canadian celebrity at this point, and I’m more than OK with that. Several in studio appearances on national TV will do that to ya. But when did I begin coining the term “Nick Nurse beat reporter,” and how did it stick?
(On a side note, I definitely think “Nick Nurse whisperer” is a little too far and just a tad creepy. Don’t call me that.)
It’s safe to say, my five days up north were one for the history books, in many, breathtaking ways.
Let’s set the record straight, in no way when I rolled out of town Sunday, June 9 to cover Carroll’s Nick Nurse – an NBA champion and Toronto Raptors head coach – never could have I imagined the ensuing whirlwind it would create. What made the trip was the power of technology and ambition. Three simple words “Carroll Times Herald” sparked my 15 minutes of fame, and took on a life of its own.
The Canadian media sure are suckers for a small town, feel good story, even if they requested the services of a print writer.
Wasn’t I supposed to be the one asking questions, generating story ideas and covering a once-in-a-lifetime moment, not fielding interview requests of my own?
The incredible NBA championship was almost an afterthought once I climbed back in my car and headed south the following Friday. What a crazy scene that was.
From being in the building for the fifth game of the NBA Finals to drinking in a wild celebration in Jurassic Park, it was almost too surreal to believe for a lifelong NBA fan. I tried to keep a level head as best I could, putting the moment into perspective for Carroll and Iowa. But to be honest, It was rather difficult. A whirlwind of emotions and excitemetn, one that I absolutely thrived off of.
The icing on the cake was a country’s relative curiosity of it’s Midwestern coach, Nick Nurse. Of course they are infatuated now, he did just bring the Toronto Raptors their first NBA title. But it was kind of adorable in a way, how much they were intrigued by Nurse’s mystery and globe-spanning career.
I hope to provide a glimpse into the wild world that opened up before me last week as best I can. There’s so much to unpack here, from the very real stereotypes of customs, to some incredible basketball and celebrations. Simply put, my trip up north was enjoyable chaos, confusion and adrenaline, all mixed into one.
The life-changing assignment came together rather quickly. Almost spur of the moment, if you will I penned a few emails Saturday afternoon on June 8, a few hours after the Raptors took a 3-1 series lead, feeling the impending excitement of a championship. By that evening, I had booked a place to stay. All I had to do was pack a suitcase and shift my car into drive.
First of all, let me get this off my chest. The Tim Horton’s chicken sandwich is absolute trash, and apparently, it’s common knowledge. My first Canadian meal was utterly disappointing. The things you’ll do in the name of hunger. But before I even unwrapped that ungodly fast food item, Canadian customs had me buying into every bit of the unfair stereotypes. They didn’t believe for a second I was a journalist covering the NBA Finals, so naturally, they searched my car. Every damn inch of it. I was nervous as hell, though I had no reason to be. Worried whether my 10 hour trip was suddenly going to hell. They kept grilling me.
I may be exaggerating there a bit. It was more of a background check and a few unnecessary questions, but they finally let me through about 30 pain staking minutes later.
Granted, I rolled into Canada at 12:30 a.m. on Monday. That may have had something to do with it. Who knows.
I only had a few hours to settle in before I trekked into downtown Toronto, in search of the NBA Finals. The game itself was incredible.
The crowd was electric, the talent on the floor was even better. I didn’t mind being up in the nosebleeds, at least I was in the door.
Then an interview with the Ringer’s Bryan Curtis came, and my world was flipped upside down. I had no way to predict the onslaught of requests for MY story. But I cherished it all. If you know me, there’s nothing I enjoy more than talking about sports, so to do so in front of a national audience was right in my wheel house. It still was a bit odd answering the questions I usually ask.
Small town media isn’t that different than the big time, despite the grander stage, the bright lights, the massive studio and the producers. Oh, and the make up artists. The make up room is incredibly hot, why did no one tell me this? I guess it may have been a combination of nerves and excitement, but I put those sweat wipes to good use.
Frankly, standing in front of the cameras and letting it all fly was rather easy. I was in my element. It was neat to promote Nurse, my company and the work we’ve done. We were finally getting our shine for decades worth of coverage. There was genuine intrigue from everyone who sought me out.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, despite the struggles in customs, my new found love for Canadians. The northerners are indeed as nice as they say. Each citizen I encountered welcomed me with open arms. They dished out as many thank yous as I did, which was a pleasant surprise. Canada loved my story, the interesting journey following a blue collar coach. Even one CBC researcher willingly, without request, gave me a quick tour of the city. Canadians are truly a wonderful kind. They helped my transition into the media limelight become as seamless as possible.
This was all before I even touch on their passion. Canada loves their basketball, and it shows. Fireworks and smoke bombs galore filled the night sky as the Raptors wrapped up their championship. Nary a light pole was free of a human being the night they won it all.
Cheers rang across the city, accompanied by honking hours and clapping. I took in as much of the celebration as I could, but there’s only so much you can endure on your own. Before too long, my solo trip got lost in the thick of the crowd, wishing I was back in the strange apartment I had booked my stay at. It was as electric of a crowd I’d ever experienced, all brought together because by a love of sports. I loved it, even if my head didn’t hit the pillow until 2 a.m.
The journey home was by far the toughest. Boy, that was freaking brutal. Fourteen hours - 28 round trip - of relative nothingness. Then add on just three hours of sleep with multiple stops for interviews on the way home, I don’t recommend giving that a try. I may have arrived back in Iowa at 3 a.m., dog tired and ready to sleep for days.
My entire week was built around basketball, and I couldn’t have been happier to share the limelight. Here’s to more championships and more air time. As long as the wins keep coming, I’ll offer a local voice as best I can. I’m here to serve the community.