BBL Snapshot is a Double Clutch content series looking at the most iconic images, history and stories from the British Basketball League
A packed Wembley Arena would heat up in May, during the BBL Playoff Finals, so Nick Nurse was keen for a cool down. “Errol Seaman was one of them, but I don’t remember if he had an accomplice or not.”
He was talking about the Gatorade shower he’d just received after finally pushing the Manchester Giants to victory. The taste of that sugary beverage dumped on his head was especially sweet given the frustration of the previous season, when the Mancs side was set to win it all. Nurse said: “That was right after the final buzzer of the championship with the Manchester Giants, and a couple of players did the old ‘dump the Gatorade over the coach’ thing. As you can see it was very refreshing, I was slicking my hair back and trying to recover from being cold and drenched with Gatorade.”
Nurse coaches in the NBA these days, and won a championship with the Toronto Raptors in 2019, but nearly two decades earlier, he was battling for BBL titles with the Giants after a previously successful run coaching the Birmingham Bullets.
In 1999, the Manchester roster was stacked: Tony Dorsey, John White, Makeba Perry, Tony Holley and Ronnie Baker romped to victory over the Derby Storm to a Trophy Final success as the Giants picked up their first piece of silverware in their BBL history. Many felt that they would win the double that season, as the team was so talented, despite finishing second in the standings. However, a surprising and frustrating loss in the semi-finals made Nurse bring in even more talent and load up for a determined run in 2000.
Nurse said: “There was a lot of elation there. We finally captured the championship that had been so elusive to us. We’d been chasing it really hard for a number of years and we finally got to the mountain top.”
Mancunian, and the talent who took the Gatorade shower photo, Mansoor Ahmed remembers that moment well. “Finally, they managed to overcome Nick Nurse’s old team, the Birmingham Bullets, and win the Final. Obviously he got the obligatory Gatorade shower, and it happened behind me, so just as I turned round, I could see him just wiping all the water off his suit and I got the picture.”
The Manchester Giants folded following the season after that victory, and wouldn’t return to the BBL for another decade. During that time, Nurse had success with the London Towers and the Brighton Bears, he also helped the GB Basketball squad at the London 2012 Olympics before taking on roles across Europe, the NBA’s G League (then D League), and now he is an NBA champion head coach. But he has also said that his favourite time as a coach was with the Manchester Giants at the turn of the millennium.
He recalled: “Travis Conlon, Phil Handy, Tony Dorsey, Tony Holley. We had some great ones there for sure. Roy Hairston. Man there were some good ones.
“Phil worked for me as an assistant coach last year [on the Toronto Raptors]. We won that title together in 2000 and did it again in the NBA 20 years later.”
Nurse has made it a calling card to bring in people he has previously worked with, and this season sees former Newcastle Eagles’ Fab Flournoy join the Raptors staff. Nurse said: “You develop relationships with certain guys and see a certain character and work ethic. You see a passion for the game, and those are guys that helped you along the way, so being able to help them in their careers and keep things moving forward is certainly a goal of mine.
“From a coaching standpoint, the BBL gave me a chance to cut my teeth and learn the trade: all the games and running the team – everything, timeouts, substitutions, lots of experimentation. I trialled a lot of things under not such intense scrutiny compared to what you are under in the NBA, but doing all the other stuff and seeing other facets while you’re trying to coach allows you to manage a lot of things at once. That certainly happens when you reach the NBA – you have to coach the game and motivate your team, but there’s also a lot of things like media that you have to struggle with. Having that constant work rate in the BBL days enables you to be able to still handle that later.”
The work rate that leads to winning a BBL Championship has stayed with Nurse, but there have been multiple Gatorade showers since that one in Wembley Arena. These days he has become used to champagne showers on the biggest basketball stage in the world, which just goes to show that the best basketball league in Britain might not be such a stretch from the NBA.