Instant Impact
Nick Nurse has the Philadelphia area abuzz in his first year as head coach of the 76ers.
by Peter Proko

In 2019, as coach of the Toronto Raptors, Nick Nurse watched his team knock off the Philadelphia 76ers in a fateful Game 7 of the Eastern Conference playoffs. His star player Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beating shot bounced around the rim four times before falling through the basket, sinking the Sixers’ season and catapulting Nurse and his squad to the NBA Championship.

Now in the midst of his first season leading the Sixers, Nurse is energetic about the fresh start. After a recent practice at the team’s facility in Camden, New Jersey, we had the opportunity to catch up with him and talk about basketball, his nonprofit foundation, and his connection to the Philadelphia area.
You’re deep into this season and the team has had some really good stretches. How has the adjustment been for you since joining the organization?

It’s been good, pretty smooth. I am fortunate that this is my second time taking over a team, and I think it allowed me to know what to expect a little bit. It’s a bit of a whirlwind starting with a new team, as far as getting to know the members of the organization, hiring staff, getting to know players, finding your way around town, around the arena—that kind of stuff. Everybody in this organization does everything first class, and the fans have been very welcoming.
Having coached against the guys on the team previously, does that give you a different perspective when taking over the roster in the sense that you’ve tried to stop them in the past, and now you’re trying to unlock their full potential?
I think you said it just right. I did feel like I knew this team really well. That was part of what attracted me to the job in the first place: I knew how good the team was and how difficult it was to coach against them. … But you don’t really get to know a team until you’re coaching them from the inside. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and happy, because I think there’s some guys who are better than I thought, and I admired them a lot already [laughs]. I think there’s still room for growth, so it’s been exciting.
What’s something you know now that you wished you knew when you first started coaching?
I had some great mentors in coaching, who told me to be patient and learn, take notes, and watch tons of games. Then I had other mentors who shifted me over to the psychological side. I did a lot of studying on chemistry and teamwork, and getting guys to play harder. Those are the things that I think really helped me. The X’s and O’s are one thing that takes a lot of study. But how do teams fit together? How do you get guys to play together? What roles do guys play? As much as I would have liked to known all that stuff 20 to 30 years ago when I was first starting out, you can’t. It’s part of the learning and growing process of a coach.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Nick Nurse Foundation and why the cause is so near and dear to you?
It started after I won the championship in 2019. I felt like I had been given a great platform to go out there and try to give back to the community. And I always have to do things that are in my wheelhouse and that I am passionate about, so that is how the focus of the foundation became basketball, music, and literacy. We look forward to getting things rolling in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.
You had the chance to throw out the first pitch at a Phillies game last August and then spent some time over at Eagles training camp. Was it important for you to connect with the other organizations and get a sense of what it’s like to play and coach in this city?
One of the things I try and stress to our players is to not forget about the community you came from. And then, to get out [and become involved] in the community you are playing in.

I love both baseball and football. It was fun and a tremendous honor to throw out the first pitch. I also loved going to football practice; I really watch and study football coaches a lot. Any chance I can get over there to pick up any tidbit I can from a really great coach, I’m going to take advantage of it.
Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia 76ers
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, March 2024.