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Nick Nurse tells the story of how he befriended his idol Phil Jackson

·NBA reporter
·2 min read

Last year’s championship was a dream season on so many levels for Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse.

Not only did Nurse lead the Raptors to their first ever title as a rookie head coach, not only did he inherit a stacked roster with the additions of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marc Gasol, but Nurse also grew close to his idol, Phil Jackson.

Nurse explained in an interview with Ros Gold-Onwude of The Boardroom that he was connected with Jackson in the summer of 2018, shortly after his promotion to head coach of the Raptors. Alex McKechnie, Vice President of Player Health and Performance, who worked with Jackson during the Lakers’ three-peat, made the introduction and Nurse ended up spending three days in Montana with Jackson as they discussed coaching and other interests.

The two struck up a friendship, and Jackson was actually one of the first people to congratulate Nurse when the Raptors won it all last June.

“When we won the championship Game 6 at Golden State, one of the first texts I got was from him,” Nurse said of Jackson. “It just said champs with a little trophy beside it, so that was pretty cool.”

“Most of the time I would text him just to see how he was, and talk. Every now and then, he would send a text. Like after one playoff game he said, ‘What happened to your offense?’ or something like that. He was still coaching. It was really great though, really fortunate and lucky to have him. I call him a mentor, I call him a friend now, and it’s really special,” Nurse said.

Nurse was an admirer of Jackson long before the two met. As he recounts during the interview, Nurse used to collect VHS tapes of the Chicago Bulls and study each game “10 or 12 times” in order to learn Jackson’s tendencies and game plans. Nurse himself was a coach at the time in the British Basketball League, and he ran the triangle offense for close to a decade that Jackson adopted from assistant coach Tex Winter en route to 11 championships with the Bulls and Lakers.

“What I ended up doing was really studying Phil, how he subbed, how he called timeouts, his demeanor, just anything I could learn. He was my mentor way back then, but he didn’t know it,” Nurse said.

“We X-and-O’ed, we talked a lot of defense, we talked a lot of pressure defense. It was just really, really enjoyable for me to be able to tell him that I studied him, and the whole time being able to look him in the eye,” he added.

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