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Raptors Coach Nick Nurse Has a Thelonious Monk Album You’re Gonna Love

I’ve been lucky enough to win a championship at five or six other places. And they feel really similar. They really do, except for it’s just such a big stage and you just gotta kind of treat them all the same, you know?

That’s like me saying I won a junior high writing contest and then won the Pulitzer Prize. [Writer’s note: I have won neither.] They’re not equal in scale.
You’re right. I could sit here and show you my championship ring from the Iowa Energy in comparison to my one from the Toronto Raptors and you’re going to know there’s some sort of difference there with the championships. [Laughs] I don’t know. Maybe in 10 years or 20 years, especially, it’ll really sink in that it is a lot bigger deal. For me, I’m just trying to keep my head down and keep my focus on getting the group of guys I’ve got better and making this Toronto Raptors organization a little bit more special and unique each and every day.

You’re a giant Thelonious Monk fan. I know nothing about jazz. If I wanted to listen to one Thelonious Monk album, where do I start?
Well, there’s so many good ones to listen to. [Nurse gets out of his office chair.]

Oh, getting out of the chair. It’s serious.
Are you filming this?

No, I’m just talking to myself like an idiot.
[Laughs. Holds up Solo Monk.] Here’s a good one I just listened to: Solo Monk.

Oh, the vinyl. Look at that.
Yeah.

You’re a vinyl guy.
I’ve got I don’t know how many, I should probably count ‘em. Probably 40 Monk albums. This is a good one. It’s got “Ruby, My Dear” and I’m Confessin’ [(That I Love You)]’” on it. It’s two of my favorites. That’s why I was just listening to this one recently. That’s a good one to start with. If you’ve never listened to him, let it roll and let it play and then listen to it some more. It kind of grows and sinks in and then there’s a real fondness that develops because it’s so unique.

Kind of sounds a little bit like your career.
Yeah, maybe. Good comparison.

I see the guitar. I know you’re quite the piano player. Drake is always a courtside presence at Raptors games. Has there been any talk of a musical collaboration?
[Laughs] No, no, no, no, no. I am a learning guitar player, right. I’m just OK. Less than 18 months I’ve started playing. It’s quite the endeavor. My piano playing is so-so, but I love to play both. I’m a long, long, long, long ways from ever collaborating with someone as talented as Drake, or anybody else.

I mean, you could hand him a demo.
I tend to play for my own enjoyment. So I don’t know if there’s gonna be any demos being recorded anytime soon. [Laughs] It’s a hobby. I love it. I hope it stretches some creativity in me. They say that it does, and I feel like it does for me. I think music brings people together. I’ll sit around and play and sing with different people and bring them into my room and or I’ll take requests and try to learn something for somebody.

Are you singing with Fred and Pascal? Coaching staff?
[Laughs] No, not players too much, no. Can’t think of a time where a player has stopped by and we’ve sung a few songs. Other coaches, yeah.

Who stands out?
Well, Rick Carlisle is a for-real piano player, big time. I can say this: there are a number of my assistant coaches who are also learning to play. They’ve taken lessons and picked up keyboard. One just got a piano in his apartment. And they’re really improving, and it’s fun to see.

Has it also improved their coaching, their contributions to the team?
Well, they’re both really good. And they’re invaluable to me. So I’m going to answer that with “Yes.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Pete Croatto is a freelance writer. His first book, From Hang Time to Prime: Business, Entertainment, and the Birth of the Modern-day NBA, will be released in December. 

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