When the Raptors face the Magic in London tonight, one participant will be right at home.

It was the beginning of the end and Nick Nurse had a front row seat. With his lips still soaked in champagne, sobriety kicked in fast when it was announced the party had morphed into a wake.

Hours after winning the 2000 BBL Championship at Wembley Arena, Art Hicks – part of the ownership group at the original and best Manchester Giants – confirmed the club was switching from zenith to nadir.

“They took us to a hotel across the street,” Nurse recounts, “and said: ‘hey everyone here is getting an extra bonus… and you’re free to go. We’re shutting it down.’

“That was a great job there though. We had a great team. The guys were getting paid well. We had unbelievable resources to do what ever we needed. We played European games preseason. I’d have stayed there a long time. But it was what it was, and that was the end of it.”

The British Basketball League has not since known it so good. Giants limped on for one more year before enduring a decade-long hibernation. The domino effect spurred one extravagant investor after another to bail and withdraw. Nurse tried his own hand at management in Brighton but the Bears, a one-game cameo from Dennis Rodman aside, were destined to slip from the end of the pier and into the sea.

16 years on, it seems an era in the distant past, of arenas and salary caps, of ambition and infusion, reckless financially but fizzling with fun.

Nurse, eventually, landed soundly on his feet. And he will again sit on a bench in the city where he once coached on Thursday, this time as an assistant for the Toronto Raptors in their midseason NBA showdown with the Orlando Magic at The 02.

Through spells in the D-League, via an abortive three-day employment at Iowa State University that effectively paid the local boy £5000 per hour for his non-service, the 48-year-old is now in a third season on the staff of Canada’s lone NBA club.

Glamour, undoubtedly. A grind as well.

“It’s pretty anonymous really,” he confirms. “It’s enjoyable. There’s not as much front line pressure. I mean we’re all under pressure to win every night but there’s a lot of development work, a lot of film work and it’s busy.

“The games come so fast and furious. You get one done, you review your own team, you make your film edits and before you know it, you’re onto the next one in a different city.

“It goes so fast. There’s not a lot of time to mess around. This trip has been good. We had a couple of days to ease up. But now it’s down to business and getting ready for Orlando.”

Life overseas prepared him well. Nurse came to the UK fresh out of college in 1990, initially to solely play at Derby Storm but then thrust into a coaching role. Enlightened, he returned in 1995 with Birmingham Bullets and – a few temporal hiatuses apart – spent a decade on these shores honing his skills and learning his craft.

It was only supposed to be one season, gaining enough experience to open up doors closer to home.

“But I had a great year at Birmingham, my first year,” he recalls. “And mid 90s-2000, it was rolling pretty good. The TV coverage was great. The level of coaching and play was good top to bottom in the BBL.

“The Bosman rule (forbidding European Union citizens from being classed as imports) changed the league a lot, for the better. And there’s no experience like head coaching experience.

“If you were a college coach, you were getting 25 games a year. Here, you were doing 50-60 when you got done with the BBL Cup and Trophy and the friendlies. It was two years in one and that was great.”

Nurse helped give a coaching clinic in London (Mansoor Ahmed)

Nurse helped give a coaching clinic in London (Mansoor Ahmed)

Salaries were unfathomable in comparison with today’s miserly scale. 11,000 fans watched an epic league title decider between Sheffield and Manchester. TV meant primetime on Sky Sports.

Now it means a webcast online at the lowest possible production cost. And while the domestic league announced a new kit deal with Kappa on Wednesday, few would give credence to its claim of a “sizeable investment.”

When Great Britain featured at the 2012 Olympic Games, Nurse was assistant to his long-time friend Chris Finch who has travelled a similar path to a NBA assistant’s role with the Houston Rockets. Neither man can fathom why the decline was never properly arrested and so much investment delivered so little.

“I don’t know man. To me, it’s such an enigma. Why has it never ever taken off or been solid enough? The only thing from my experience here is it still a lack of infrastructure or places to play?

“It seems to me that the kid who is good from 11-16, where does he go? It becomes a cost-versus-venue and it’s difficult to keep those kids going if they can’t afford to keep playing. I can’t explain it. It’s a bummer. We all invested a lot of our lives in it and it hurts.”

The apprenticeship, this trans-Atlantic expedition, nonetheless served him well. Still a popular figure, he admits to an unmanageable wave of ticket requests from old acquaintances in the UK in recent weeks for the Raptors excursion.

His former assistant Steve Swanson was among those observing as he led parts of practice on Wednesday. Others will watch on their screens and feel a touch of nostalgic pride.

“It’s been lots of years of toils,” Nurse smiles. “Obviously it’s great.”

It is a million miles from where he once stood on the sidelines of the long-demolished Moorways in Derby. But not, he adds, so far removed.

“On one hand, I think basketball is basketball,” Nurse advises. “A lot of what we were doing in the Milton Keynes Leisure Centre or the Northgate Arena in Chester is applicable. It’s about getting guys to play together.

“The Xs and Os aren’t a lot different. It’s just a lot more pressure with a lot more eyes on you. And there’s just a lot more of everything.

“But it’s been awesome. I still pinch myself a bit. Last week, I was in a little bit of a debate with LeBron about a foul at the end of a game. Sometimes, that blows my mind.”

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