Home is where the heart is. A cliché statement that could never be more true to my life. When asked what I do and where I live, the answer, well, is best represented by – it’s complicated. For many years now I have wanted to write this article, needed to write this article in order to take everyone on an adventure and a journey all over the world where basketball has taken me. Welcome to my life, buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Born and raised in small town Pella, Iowa (right down the road from Kyle Korver), my love was purely basketball. Day, night, sun, snow, it made no difference, I had a basketball in my hand. As my playing career might not have taken me as far as my neighbor Korver, it sure did bring its fruitful benefits – Western Illinois University, NBA D-League, Australia, Greece, and Spain. And from there the bug was born – The Basketball Rolling Stone.
My profession? NBA shooting/skills development coach and consultant. What that entails, you ask? Primarily I train NBA players in the offseason, work with a select few through the season in Synergy film, analytics, and career development on a game-by-game basis; travel like a maniac internationally working with teams as a sought-after contracted coaching consultant; and also run camps for big basketball programs worldwide.
I have played, seen, and coached basketball on every continent, over 30 countries. Every single level that you can possibly imagine, every basketball story that you can possibly fathom, I have seen and I have experienced. As this article won’t do my full worldwide life experience justice (full book coming, date TBD), I would however like to take you behind the scenes on a basketball roller coaster ride that most people will never see.
April 2011 / Athens, Greece
Think World Cup soccer is intense? Think again. Welcome to the Euroleague semifinal game between Panathiniakos and Maccabi Tel Aviv. It’s a crisp spring evening in Athens, the Tel-Aviv team bus has just arrived at the stadium among a swarm of SWAT-type trucks under heavy protection.
At the stadium, the challenge wasn’t as simple as purchase a ticket or pick it up at will call. It was basically UFC fight-your-way-through-the-gates; tickets were null, they held no weight of importance. The arena probably held around 18,000 at capacity, however, there was at least 24,000-plus packed like sardines in the stadium. Rafters and shoulders became viable seats and breathing room literally was at a premium. Cigarette smoke filled the air with a visible cloud that stretched across the rafters. Flares lit throughout the stands were the norm, and a constant beat of drums still rings in my ears.
The interesting caveat about the game; almost no Macabbi fans were allowed in the game. Except for the fortunate (or unfortunate, however you choose to look at it) who were able to sneak in. And they paid the price. Literally. Early fourth quarter in a game that was too close for comfort in the eyes of the Panathinaikos fans and probably the refs as well, who were taking a verbal lashing every call that went against the sea of green crowd, a fight broke out in the top corner of the stadium between the few Maccabi fans who were able to get into the game. And it didn’t end well. Beaten to a pulp, they were exited by an ambulance.
Passion or much too far over the edge? You be the judge. Either way, basketball in Europe is not taken lightly.
There are many more European stories that I could go in depth on – friends playing in Lithuania who would take the decals of their names off their cars to avoid being pelted with coins after losses outside the arena. Fake marriages, under-the-table handshakes and favors all in the name of obtaining a European passport. The list goes on and on. Amidst all the angst and corruption, the one thing I will give Europeans is their unbelievable pride in their countries. They will fight you to the death.
February 2012 / Recife, Brazil
In a country and continent where athletes are renowned for the use of their feet, the growth of basketball is still well behind its adversary, but don’t sleep on it… It is rising quickly. In all the countries and continents I have traveled to, I think it’s safe to say that South Americans speak the least amount of English of anyone and could care less to start. Maybe that answers my perplexities on why an authentic taste-bud salivating all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse is less expensive than a Big Mac in Brazil. You can either view that as Big Mac being a rarity or Brazilians extremely overpricing it because they want nothing to do with their Northern American neighbor.
But I digress.
It’s late in the evening near the beach in Recife, Brazil. I have just finished up an all-day clinic for coaches, youth, and seemingly anyone who bounces a ball with their hands in Northern Brazil. I’m beyond exhausted and famished at this point. The locals, of course, want to play a pick-up game and so do the people who are taking me around and hosting me.
To be honest, at this point I’m more interested in getting an Acai bowl (the native fruit to Brazil). So I’m out of the game and on my mission to find my Acai. My hosts line me up with a ride to take me into the city to cure my cravings. Just so happens the driver doesn’t speak any English. No worries, 99 percent of everyone else doesn’t either. About 15 minutes later, we pull up at the Acai stand. I clearly signal to the driver to wait right where he is at, I’m going to go pick up the Acai and be right back so we can return to the gym. I step out of the car, not five seconds later, and there goes my driver. Gone.
So now picture this, I’m stuck in a city of more than five million people, no idea how to get back to where I need to go, no cell phone, and no one speaks any English. Oh, and for the record all I know in Portuguese is ‘Obrigado.’ (Translation: Thank you). Not quite the word I’m looking for in this situation. I’m up and down the street for 30 minutes trying to find someone, anyone who speaks English. No luck. By the way, Northern Brazil is probably one of the most dangerous, drug infested areas in South America and for that matter the world. Not the ideal place to be roaming the streets late at night.
Quick prayer, and new plan. I’m now back at the Acai stand mimicking shooting a basketball doing air crossover dribbles. Finally it clicks with them. I’m a basketball coach. My guy gets on the phone and starts making calls, speaking way too fast and making horrible form shooting motions in the air. Next thing I know, up roll two cars and out come my hosts. I’m saved. Answered prayer, for sure. And the power of the language of basketball at its finest.
I honestly could be living on the streets in Northern Brazil to this day if it weren’t for the language of basketball and it’s worldwide, magnetic network. Might not have been half bad living by the Acai stand, though.
August 2013 / Kampala, Uganda
If anyone is ever wondering about the myth of naturally tall basketball players in Africa, well, it’s true. I’ll explain. Our journey brings us to a brutally hot day near the equator in Uganda. Basketball court? Check. Made of dirt and filled with potholes the size that could swallow a small car? Check. Let’s just say American comfort in Africa is an oxymoron. I’ve been called in to run a camp and set up a basketball program in Uganda, which brought in players from all over the region, including the Sudan. I’m about 6-foot-3 (with shoes on), but these players at the camp made me look like the Keebler Elf.
Only a select few had shoes, and even if some did, they didn’t bother wearing them. Against my better judgment I agreed to play in the camp All-Star Game with the players. Basically the entire game I was tiptoeing up and down the court just trying to avoid falling into a man-hole while all the African players were flying up and down the court without a care in the world. And in that moment, while I was only caring about my personal needs and safety, I saw a joy for life and living in the moment that I had never seen before.
These people had nothing, literally not much more than the clothes on their back, yet on the court they were at peace, in exuberance, and soaking in every enjoyment of the moment. It taught me a lesson that day, it doesn’t matter at all what you have or how much you have, its how much enjoyment you can find in the moment. Live each moment to the fullest; they definitely did. In all my travels I haven’t found any all-around happier people than I did that day on the court in Kampala, Uganda. Lesson learned, life is a gift.
April 2014 / Adelaide, Australia
The setting: Game 2 NBL Finals, Adelaide 36ers vs. Perth Wildcats. In an arena that only holds upwards of around 8,000, you could have told me we were at Jerry Jones World in Dallas and I would have believed you. The atmosphere was rocking (at a respectable rate, not an Athens smoke a cigarette/punch a random bystander in the face rate).
First play of the game, the ball was tipped hard and wide and the Adelaide point guard sprinted over to the sidelines and dove completely horizontal into the stands to save the ball and the possession. It was the first possession of the game, let me remind you. The significance of that play you might be asking? That’s the epitome of Australian basketball; all-out, hard-nosed toughness basketball. As much as rugby symbolizes the Australian culture as a whole, it also sends its underlying presence on the hardwood. Basically every player coming out of Australia has that toughness aura about them.
I’ve been able to develop close relationships with many of their NBA players – Aron Baynes, Cam Bairstow, Matthew Dellavedova and every one of them would Ronda Rousey headbutt and fight you tooth and nail until the final buzzer. The world saw it this past NBA playoffs as Delly developed into the modern day get inside your head Dennis Rodman. He wouldn’t have even been playing basketball if a player rated ahead of him growing up hadn’t turned down an invite to the Australian Institute of Sport.
Australians are the most blue-collar players bar none. Think about it, have you ever heard an Australian labeled frail and soft? Have you ever heard those terms used for a Euro big? Yeah, basically 9 out of every 10. Point proven.
What also stands out to me in all my travels throughout Australia – Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Cairns, Darwin – is the amount of people who love the NBA. Nearly every camp that I run in Australia will have 30 LeBron James, 20 Kobe Bryants and Kevin Durants, a few Michael Jordans, and of course a handful of Patty Mills. Australia has the highest per capita of NBA League Passes owned. Now that’s passion. And don’t think it’s only fandom and toughness that highlight Australian basketball. Alongside Canada, Australia is the next hotbed for talent.
Hands down, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft next June, Ben Simmons, from Melbourne, Australia. Same spot that Cleveland point guard comes from. Delly, yes, but I’m speaking of Kyrie Irving.
Cage diving with great white sharks, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, skydiving over some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Oh yeah, I make sure I enjoy my time there.
March 2015 / Tokyo, Japan
Before I can even blink, the realization comes over me that I am an hour into an all-Japanese in-depth meeting/interview for the head coaching position of the Japanese National Team. And to be honest, I don’t know how I got to that point. My translator spits out word after word that I can only imagine he is translating correctly while I make my case for a position I don’t really know how I fell into being a candidate or even truly want. That interview, however, sums up Asian basketball in a nutshell.
That’s just Japan, I’ve seen things in Chinese basketball that you can’t even fathom to write in a Hollywood script. When the coach of the team that just won the game by five points instead of seven due to a last-second desperation heave is physically crying on the sidelines (not in tears of joy that is) and the player who hit the shot for the losing team is celebrating like he just won the Powerball (well, he actually might have) you know that the only rule, there are no rules, applies. Of course it’s not like that everywhere in China. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many great people and great basketball minds throughout China, Korea and Japan. I’ve been able to work with the Singapore National Team, run camps in Hong Kong and Thailand. Asian basketball is one of the most interesting and exciting experiences I have ever had.
But the pinnacle of the Asian basketball experience lies in Philippines. If you think Duke vs. North Carolina brings basketball passion, you haven’t seen anything. Think a double header of Duke vs. UNC, Kentucky vs. Indiana, and Michigan St. vs. Michigan all rolled into one. Then you are starting to scratch the surface of the basketball passion that resides in the Philippines. I could probably write a book on this topic alone. Good thing someone already has, Pacific Rims, following my good friend and legendary Philippines coach Tim Cone throughout one of his many championship seasons.
As every kid on the street corner playing soccer is to Brazil, every kid on that same corner with a ball and a hoop playing basketball is to the Philippines. I’ll just give you a small taste of the basketball passion that engulfs the country.
Opening night of the PBA season February 2015; 40,000-plus fans screaming at the top of their lungs as Manny Pacquiao and his Kia Motors team take the floor (Manny plays, coaches, and owns the team). The country of the Philippines has shut down for this game. Work, irrelevant. Family time, that can wait. This is the heartbeat of Manila, basketball season is underway! (Oh, and don’t you dare say Manny can’t play. Ask Daniel Orton how that worked out for him).
Basketball has opened up basically every door for me. It has provided me with an enormous worldwide network, but even more importantly worldwide friendships. No matter how successful I am at what I do, the relationships and friendships I have built and will continue to build are priceless.
There have been many times I have woken up and not known what country I am in. I have slept on dirt floors in India, flown non-stop 27 hours, eaten scorpion, starfish, and cicada all in one meal, flown airlines that I swore I’d be a better person if the plane would just land safely, and been in numerous situations that God has answered a prayer directly on the spot.
As crazy as it seems, I’d love the opportunity to go to North Korea and help relations with super fan Kim Jong-un. All in all, not bad for a small town Iowa kid.
And whenever I feel like I am worn down from the travel or jet-legged beyond jet-leg itself, I know I have been blessed with a platform and I am going to use it for a greater good and a higher purpose. So to answer your question if I am going to slow down? Nope, I’m like the Energizer Bunny, I keep going and going and going.
David Nurse is a professional shooting coach. You can learn more about him at PerfectShotsBasketball.com, the best shooting and skills basketball website in the world. You can also follow him on Twitter @davidnurse05.