Farewell, Nick Nurse: Honorary Arkell, CBC Television Star, Prince Devotee

The Toronto Raptors fired their head coach on the seventh anniversary of Prince's death

Photos: Nurse (colour) via House of Highlights (YouTube); New Power Generation (left); Matt Crandall (right)

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Apr 21, 2023

Prince — the late musical icon who famously lived in Toronto from 2001 to 2006 — has a funny way of popping up in formative moments in recent Toronto Raptors history. When head coach Nick Nurse first learned that Kawhi Leonard would not be returning to the team to defend their 2019 NBA title, he was in the middle of watching a Prince tribute band. Now, the Raptors bench boss has been fired on the seventh anniversary of the artist's death.

Nurse spent a total of 10 years with the Raptors, splitting his time on the bench evenly between coaching as an assistant and leading the team to its first-ever NBA championship. Prior to winning it all, the city learned of Nurse's deep love of jazz, his "concert-level" piano playing, and how photos of legends like Thelonius Monk, Chet Baker, B.B. King and Muddy Waters hung in his office at the Raptors' practice facility

Post-championship, Nurse achieved a level of cultural ubiquity few other pro sports coaches in the country have ever come close to. Outside of that monogram ball cap he had for sale, he hopped onstage to play with Arkells and Prince's New Power Generation, revealed one of his holy grail records, and became a guest star on multiple CBC television shows — not a bad resume for someone back on the job hunt.

At present, it doesn't seem like Nurse will sling his guitar over his shoulder and hop the first flight out of the country. Upon news of the coaching change this morning, Sportsnet's Blake Murphy noted that Nurse is still "locked in and committed to the Canadian national program," set to coach the men's team through to the summer Olympics in 2024.

As basketball fans wait with bated breath for further Raptors offseason retooling, revisit the moments in which Nick Nurse played his way into the Canadian cultural conversation.

Nurse Becomes Part of Drake's Playoff Sideline Silliness

Drake was a fixture in the courtside seats at Scotiabank Arena during the Toronto Raptors' run to the NBA title — if he wasn't up clowning opposition players or calming down coach Nurse, that is. During the team's conference final battle against the Milwaukee Bucks, it was reported that the NBA had words for the artist about his sideline antics, which included trying to get Nurse to loosen up in tense moments of the game. For all the flak he caught from Wisconsin basketball fans, the Bucks still play the music of the Raptors Global Ambassador during home games all this time later.

Nurse Joins Arkells Onstage in Toronto

Basking in the post-championship glow, Nurse appeared onstage with Arkells at their raucous "Rally Cry Summer Night" concert at Toronto's Budweiser Stage, lending six-string support to a cover of Stevie Wonder's 1970 single "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" you can revisit below. Of his guitar — which was spotted slung over his shoulder when not on the floor during the run to the title — Nurse told media at the time, "I'm not very good. If I was a golfer I'd be shooting about 120, if I was comparing my guitar playing to golf. I like a little Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, that kinda stuff."

Nurse Keeps Digging for Prince's Fabled Black Album

While in Tennessee to take on the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2021-22 season, Nurse led CityTV on a tour of local record store Memphis Music — a store that has his photo tacked up alongside other celebrity visitors like Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Gary Clark Jr. On his televised dig, the Prince devotee came across an unofficial version of the artist's Black Album — the hyper rare, hyper expensive title he famously shelved a week ahead of its release. Should he ever come across a copy of his own, Nurse shared with the network, "I don't even know what I would do. It's kind of weird, I probably wouldn't be able to open it."

Nurse Performs with New Power Generation, Prince's Former Band

Nurse's gig with the Arkells looked like a blast, but knowing his musical fandom, a chance to sit in on a set by the New Power Generation — who backed the Purple One from 1990 to 2013 — surely ranks among his best moments onstage. During the NPG's stop at Toronto Jazz Fest in 2022, Nurse joined the band to perform "Purple Rain," and gifted the musicians their own custom "NPG" Raptors jerseys.

Nurse Appears on CBC's Pretty Hard Cases and Murdoch Mysteries

In taking the "NN" brand beyond ball caps and guest musical appearances, Nurse pivoted to television with the help of Canada's national broadcaster, landing cameo roles in a pair of series. On Murdoch Mysteries, Nurse played a locker room attendant who didn't hesitate to offer up some coaching tips in the peach basket-era of play, ahead of donning a badge playing officer Nick Iowa on cop comedy-drama Pretty Hard Cases.

The Pretty Hard Cases cameo was particularly hilarious, considering what Nurse and the team got up to the night his episode aired. Upon his appearance being announced, Raptors fans were quick to joke about how his acting was to blame for the Raptors struggles — winners of three of their last 10 games at the time.

If you didn't tune into Pretty Hard Cases that night (January 4), you may have watched the Raptors shoot an abysmal 2-for-30 to open a contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, scoring a total of 12 points in the first quarter. The pendulum would swing the other way later on, with the Raptors pouring in 18 points in the final 74 seconds of regulation, only to lose 104-101 in overtime. Afterwards, Nurse shared of game, "I don't think I've seen one that weird."

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