If Nick Nurse hadn’t held his nerve to stick out a poor start to his first season at Birmingham Bullets, history might have been written a very different way.

He was just 27 years old. His first proper gig as a head coach wasn’t entirely going his way. The Bullets were bumping along at 8-8 as winter loomed.

“I went over there to see if I was any good or see if I could get better,” he recounts. “It was a second go-around there but the first time (at Derby) was as a player-coach. I went back to my hotel and wondered if I should pack up and go home.

I wrote down four other things that I might like doing and they all looked like absolutely shit to me.”

Managing a gym. Real estate Becoming an accountant. “I don’t remember what the fourth one was,” he laughs.

It wasn’t about the money. It was, he acknowledged, about the love of the game and the dreams it might offer.

“So I figured I better get working on coaching and working it out.”

It fell spectacularly into place. Despair turned to joy when Nurse led the Bullets to the BBL playoff final and a victory over London Towers within six months.

And then backed it up with a British Basketball League title the following year, with a repeat at Manchester Giants in 2000 and a clutch of other honours during his subsequent stints with Towers and Brighton Bears.

Yet he’s come a long long way, reaching the pinnacle of this extraordinary journey by guiding the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever NBA Championship last summer.

And how he’s picked up another honour, and a further slice of history, becoming the first to add an NBA Coach of the Year prize to the same award from the BBL.

On Saturday, it was revealed that the 53-year-old received 90 of 100 first place votes cast by a panel of media members finishing ahead of Milwaukee Bucks coach and one-time Scottish League star Mike Budenholzer and Oklahoma City’s Billy Donovan, who finished second and third respectively.


Nurse took the award as recognition for how he has kept the Raptors in firm contention despite losing Kawhi Leonard, the talisman for that 2020 title run.

Assistant to Chris Finch for the Great Britain men’s team for several years, his ascent from a barely-paid gig at Derby Bucks to his current elevated role has been nothing short of meteoric.

Credit then-Bullets owner Harry Wrublewski for handing Nurse the shot that really convinced him this profession was for him.

“The tug of trying new ideas was pulling me back to England so I could get another team to coach,” he admitted. “I was just more trying to figure out if my ideas were right and if I I could get better.”

Even so, he could never have imagined it would lead to all this when he sat in his hotel room and wondered if Birmingham should be the place where he leapt off this rollercoaster rather than riding out the troughs and the peaks.

If they’d said then he’d end up scaling these heights…?

“At that particular moment, I would have probably said you’re full of it a little bit,” he said with a smile. “But that team actually that year got it together pretty well and went on a nice winning streak. It started 8-8 in the league and ended up 26-10, so it actually ended up being a pivotal year in my professional decision or career choice or whatever.

“Even saying that, I would say winning the British Basketball League championship as a 27-year-old is a long way from where we are right now. That probably would be pie in the sky thoughts.”

Not any more. Perseverance, handsomely paid off.

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