Nick Nurse has officially become the first BBL head coach to become a boss in the NBA.

Chosen to be the new man in charge of the Toronto Raptors, the 50-year-old served his apprenticeship in the British Basketball League, initially as a player-coach with the long-forgotten Derby Bucks, and then through subsequent stops with the Birmingham Bullets, Manchester Giants, London Towers and Brighton Bears.

All, in their original form, disappearing into the abyss. But the affable Iowan – who also served as Great Britain’s assistant coach – continuing to thrive.

Nurse, 50, joined the Raptors in 2013 and helped construct an offensive system that ranked among in the NBA’s top 10 in three of five seasons. During the 2017-18 campaign the Raptors set franchise records for points per game (111.7) and three-pointers made (968).

“I’m proud to take on the role of head coach of the Toronto Raptors, and to continue to work with the exceptional players we have here,” Nurse said. “Toronto and the Raptors organization has been my home for the past five years, and I’ve watched this group grow and succeed together. I’m looking forward to more of that this season, and to working towards our shared goal, which is to earn the right to call ourselves NBA Champions.”

Few would have given you anything but long odds on him reaching the extraordinary position in which he finds himself now. Regarded by some as an offensive savant for his work in Toronto under-now predecessor Dwayne Casey, and in his two previous G-League appointments in Iowa and Rio Grange, he will now get the opportunity to attempt to do something he did regularly in the BBL: landing titles.

Using the same kind of motivational prowess that once persuaded Dennis Rodman to leap straight from Celebrity Big Brother to The Triangle for a one-off appearance with the Bears (that he was ineligible and the win was voided matters not).

Or that helped him court the favour of enough of Toronto’s stars that he beat out Ettore Messina (the bloody legendary Ettore Messina!) to be handed the keys of Canada’s team. Crikey.

Almost as incredible as the trajectory of his General Manager, Masai Uriji, who also spent time on court with Derby and a handful of other English League teams before plotting his path to the Association.



Spare a thought for Chris Finch. The other BBL-to-NBA graduate had Nurse on his staff at the 2012 Olympics and opened the door for Nurse to get into the outer reaches of the NBA universe. He was the guy we all expected to complete the ascent from UK ball to the very pinnacle, not his long-time friend.

Winning with the Raptors, leading them beyond where the Coach of the Year did before his unfathomably ruthless firing, will be tougher than anything he has attempted before.

But don’t bet against him succeeding. Because, as we have seen, Nurse is a master at bucking the odds.

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