The Current

Raptors coach Nick Nurse says it's a good thing Black Lives Matter has become a bigger part of our lives

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse says he hopes the anti-racism protests that followed the death of George Floyd have made everybody more political, and more aware of racism.

Anti-racism protests should have made us all more political: Nurse

Nick Nurse said the Toronto Raptors had 'very open and candid discussions' about their own experiences following recent anti-racism protests. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

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During the global protests that followed the death of George Floyd, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse says his job was to get his players together "and just let everybody speak."

"We had very open and candid discussions with our players — nothing to do with basketball, just ideas on how we can make the world a better place," said Nurse, who led the Raptors to the team's first NBA championship victory in 2019,

His new book is titled Rapture: Fifteen Teams, Four Countries, One NBA Championship and How to Find a Way to Win — Damn Near Anywhere.

Nurse told The Current's Matt Galloway that the players were "amazing in voicing their concerns," and shared their own stories about "run-ins they had with law enforcement."

"My job was to lead them, to give them a voice, to listen to them, put [an] arm around them if I need to, to help them with their ideas — going forward — of things they wanted to get done, and be part of their group."

The killing of George Floyd — an unarmed Black man pinned to the ground by a white police officer kneeling on his neck during his arrest in Minneapolis in May — led to months of protests and global discussions on systemic racism.

Pro sports games have now resumed after NBA players led a boycott this week in solidarity with protests against deadly police violence. The National looks at what they're doing to keep that message at the forefront, and how the NBA reacted much differently to racial unrest in the 1990s. 2:11

In August, NBA players halted play for three days in a protest sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, another Black man in Kenosha, Wis. Play resumed after the league agreed to partner with players on initiatives on racial justice and voting in the upcoming U.S. election.

While U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the protest at the time — saying politics would destroy the sport — Nurse commended the NBA for giving players a platform, and said he hopes the issues raised in recent months have a lasting impact on people.

"I hope it made everybody more political," he told Galloway.

"[When] the pandemic became part of life, you had to start educating yourself on what to do," he said.

"And then Black Lives Matter became part of our lives a little bit more, and it's a good thing. It needed to be."

Nurse signed a multi-year extension to his Raptors contract last month, in the middle of a season interrupted by COVID-19, and ending for his team with a second-round exit against the Boston Celtics.

Jayson Tatum had 29 points to go along with 12 boards as the Boston Celtics beat the Toronto Raptors 92-87 in game 7 of their second round series. 0:25

While he said resuming the season under strict COVID-19 bubble restrictions "wasn't that fun," he welcomed the chance to get back to work.

"I thought people around the world needed sports, you know, even if it was just on TV to watch it, as some positivity."

Nurse came close to quitting

In August, Nurse was named the NBA's coach of the year. But at tbe beginning of his career in the mid-1990s, he came close to quitting. 

Born in Carroll, Iowa, in 1967, Nurse spent his early coaching years in Europe, working with teams in the British Basketball League.

"I was coaching the Birmingham Bullets, my team was eight and eight [wins and losses], and I didn't think I was any good at it," he told Galloway.

Nurse said he started to question whether his move to Europe was paying off, especially as he was away from family and not making much money. 

"I went and sat down in my hotel room and wrote down about four other things that I thought about doing instead of coaching, and they all looked like absolute shit to me," he laughed.

"I decided I better get to work and become a better coach."

Almost 25 years later, he led the Raptors to their first NBA championship. It's the first time a Canadian team has won the league's top prize.

In the book, he describes surrendering control as part of his coaching style. 

"I lay out a vision, I try to put out a plan, then I let my assistant coaches coach … and then I let the players play," he said.

"We put in a structure and a framework, but we leave lots of room for freedom so people can show their creativity." 

The parade shut down parts of Toronto's downtown area for cheers, chants and champagne showers. 7:48

Nurse said that he's tried to stay focused on self improvement at every step of his career.

"Each and every season I was trying to find a way to become better, and if I was ever going to get a shot at a really big-time job, I wanted to be ready for it," he said. 

His advice to anyone trying to succeed is to "love the job you're in."

"Give that job everything you have, and it'll prepare you for something bigger down the road."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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