[ laughs ] There ’ s a lot going on ! I ’ m really enjoying it . So , I don ’ t know if I ’ m ready for any big electric guitar solos or to play the end of a major anthem or anything , but I ’ m making progress . Having fun .”
Members of the Raptors staff have mentioned that on the road sometimes they can hear him practicing his guitar or piano from his hotel room when he isn ’ t working on game plans . The 54-year-old says that his roster isn ’ t only filled with world-class basketball talent , but there are also a number of musically-talented players .
“ Scottie [ Barnes ] did an amazing rendition of a Bruno Mars song this year at a practice where he had to sing with the other rookies ,” Nurse reveals about the NBA Rookie of the Year . “ He did a really good job and out of three of them , [ Barnes , Dalano Banton , and Justin Champagnie ,] he was carrying the tune all by himself .”
“ Pascal [ Siakam ] is pretty good on piano , too . He has a really nice feel for it and OG [ Anunoby ] played the trumpet I believe for about six years . Or maybe it was trombone ? Well , one of the two he played for a long time .”
Aside from his passion for basketball , Nurse has an enduring love for music and making sure kids from all walks of life can explore the possibilities that come from learning an instrument . In March of 2020 , Nurse launched the Nick Nurse Foundation ( NNF ). The Toronto-based foundation has three pillars : music , sport , and literacy .
“ I want to get an instrument in kids ’ hands , get them some lessons , get them a teacher , get them playing – whether it ’ s a guitar or a piano or the drums or a DJ thing or vocal lessons or whatever it is – so they can be involved and have the joy of music and have fun .”
The foundation unfortunately launched on the same night in March 2020 that the NBA would suspend its season because of the global COVID-19 pandemic , limiting the options the NNF had in interacting with kids for almost two years .
“ I was in Cleveland at the All-Star Game and just happened to be sitting by a guy from Toronto who was at the event and the first thing he said to me was , ‘ Hey , I was at your event . I ’ ll never forget it ,’” Nurse tells Canadian Musician . “ The circumstances of the event were memorable but , the circumstances around it made it unforgettable .”
During the middle of the event , news broke that Utah Jazz player Rudy Golbert was the first NBA player to test positive for COVID-19 , and shortly after the NBA would do the almost unthinkable : suspend the entire season .
“ We were almost done the program part of the night and literally somebody from our organization came up to me and showed me this text about the league and said , ‘ What are we going to do ?’ And I said , ‘ Well , I ’ m going on stage with the Arkells here in about five minutes , it ’ s gonna be all over in about 20 , and then we ’ ll figure out what we ’ re gonna do .”
Looking back now at the foundation ’ s first two years , which have completely overlapped with the pandemic , “ We were able to get some things done , probably not nearly as much as we were hoping though ,” Nurse says . “ It ’ s been tough with the restrictions . We dropped off instruments in kids ’ driveways or a parking lot , just doing the best we could to get them the stuff but we had little interaction other than through email .”
A lot of the work the Nick Nurse Foundation has done hasn ’ t been under the radar . It donated thousands of dollars to music programs in the Greater Toronto Area , hosted basketball camps , supplied shoes and
NICK NURSE ( AT PIANO ) PERFORMING WITH ARKELLS AT THE LAUNCH OF THE NNF
jerseys , provided meals for families on Thanksgiving , raised money for programs and social justice initiatives that empower families and youth from underrepresented communities , the list goes on and on and it ’ s just the beginning .
“ For me , it ’ s just a great release of having a really constructive way to spend my time away from the pressures of my job and all that stuff . I love it , it makes me feel good and , hopefully , it will enhance self-image for these kids . That ’ s really the goal .”
One of the big fundraising nights for the foundation is what he was hoping would be “ An Evening of Music .” The first year featured performances by some of the coach ’ s favourite artists , including Grammy Award-winner Daniel Caesar , but it has been postponed the last two years because of the pandemic .
“ We will probably do something this summer outdoors , maybe make it a little bigger , more of an outdoor festival-type thing rather than maybe the regular indoor dinner and auction type of fundraising thing we do . It ’ s a big event for us , it ’ s one of our big fundraisers ,” says Nurse .
“ We may be doing something like a Toronto ’ s Got Talent contest coming up and rolling something out like that and I think that would be fun ,” he adds . “ We ’ ve got some really good people we ’ re working with to get that going , so there ’ s a lot going on , a lot to do , and a lot to look forward to .”
Nurse is hoping to bring parts of the program across Canada , including Vancouver , and says the money raised in each city will stay in that city for local programs , whether it be basketball or music camps .
“ You know , when they are done the camp , they ’ re going to walk out of there with a guitar or drums or a keyboard or whatever they need to continue on in music and then I hope that someday we can kind of bring them back together and that there ’ s an outreach and show that they ’ ve grown and been able to play some music together . I really believe that everybody should be involved in music .”
And if you ’ re wondering , the “ holy grail ” album Nurse has been searching for in record stores across North America is an original copy of Prince ’ s The Black Album .
To donate or read more about the programs supported by the foundation , go to NickNurseFoundation . org .
PHOTO : @ NATHANNASH
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