July 8, 2021 

Kia Nurse knows that ‘every platform matters’

Nurse speaks out ahead of representing her country in Tokyo

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When Kia Nurse made her half-court Eurostep buzzer-beater back on June 1 to help the Phoenix Mercury pull off a stunning comeback at the Chicago Sky, she admitted it was her first time ever making a shot from half.

But since then, a funny thing has happened: Nurse has done it again. And again.

Nurse has taken the classic Eurostep going to her left — plant your right foot going right, cut your body back the other way and bring the ball with you as you do — and replicated it anytime she takes a shot from mid-court. And it’s come with success, too: she made one in a practice a few days after the June 1 shot in a game, and then made one in back-to-back shootarounds in Los Angeles on June 16 and 18.

“My half-courts now are automatically Eurosteps because it’s working,” Nurse told The Next in a recent in-person interview. “I don’t think I’ll use it in a game again but it’s working for my practice shots.”

The Eurostep-from-half buzzer-beater is clearly the highlight of an up-and-down first half of 2021 for Nurse, who’s in her first year with the Phoenix Mercury. But perhaps the biggest moment of Nurse’s 2021 won’t even happen in this hemisphere. Nurse is one of three Canadians in the WNBA who will be joining the rest of Team Canada over in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics. While Team Canada is already over in Tokyo preparing, Nurse will fly over with Minnesota’s Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton after this week’s games to prepare for an Olympic run.

“Every time you get the opportunity to represent your country, no matter what tournament it is, it’s still an incredible feeling,” Nurse said. “It’s hard to put words to. Being able to represent your family and all of the sacrifices they’ve made to get to where you are and to be representing a country as great as Canada — we’re not perfect, but I am proud to be from Canada. Being able to get that call is always great.”

Nurse has also become one of Canada’s most marketable athletes ahead of the Olympics, not only recently signing a sponsorship deal to be represented by the Air Jordan brand of Nike but also doing commercials for Doordash Canada, Bell and Tangerine Bank.

But that hasn’t stopped Nurse from being outspoken about some of the issues going on up North, either. Recently, Canada has been going through its own reckoning of sorts with the country’s past use of residential schools and the discovery of mass graves at them. In Nurse’s eyes, her home country is not any different than the country she’s working in.

“I think the way this year has gone overall, with the pandemic, and with what has happened in America, Canada is not immune to anything that has been existing in this world,” Nurse said. “Every country has its flaws and has some histories it’s not proud of. Obviously, there’s a lot of work that we need to do as a country to continue to bring awareness but also reconcile a lot of what’s happened in our past.

“Representing Canada can mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people, based on their experiences. We want to be a country for all and equal for all and recognizing that we’ve had our flaws and that there are things that we need to change is a big part of that as well.”

Heading to the Olympics, where they’ll be able to be seen around the globe, represents an incredible opportunity for any athletes who wish to use it. And Nurse isn’t afraid to speak up.

“I think, as a society, we’re a work in progress, right?” Nurse said. “Sports has a unique ability to bring people together, and an event like the Olympics brings the entire world essentially to one stage — virtually, this year, because of COVID. Having the platform that we do as athletes to continue to provide places where voices need to be heard and using that platform will be important here.”

It’s something Nurse and her fellow Canadian Olympic basketball players have already done for their teammates. Longtime Canadian national team player Kim Smith Gaucher had a daughter in March and was told by the IOC that she would be unable to bring her to Tokyo, despite the daughter still being breastfed by Gaucher.

But thanks to Gaucher’s public pleas and the attention brought to the issue by her teammates, the IOC relented and will allow breastfeeding mothers to bring their children to Tokyo. It’s quite the reinforcement of the power of social media.

“The internet is a crazy thing,” Nurse said. “It’s got its benefits, and its drawbacks as well, but I think in the situation that Kim was going through, deciding whether to be a breastfeeding mother or be an Olympian, an absolutely impossible decision to make, we looked and she said, ‘The internet hopefully can find some solutions and bring some awareness.’

“And it did bring some change, and now we’re going to have our leader there with us. That just shows you how much every platform matters — not just if you have a million followers. You can have a small platform and still make a change or still raise awareness and help someone else.”

Nurse and the Canadian women’s basketball team will likely have a good-sized platform once they get to Tokyo. They’re in Group A, with Serbia, South Korea and Spain and will be considered likely to advance to the knockout round. Canada will be hoping to improve on its back-to-back seventh-place finishes in their last two major international tournaments (the 2016 Olympics and the 2018 FIBA World Championships).

If Team Canada wants to do that, then Nurse will have to be a key part of it. At the halfway point of the WNBA season, though, she admits her game is “not necessarily” where I want it to be. Entering Wednesday, Nurse is averaging 9.1 points on 32.4% shooting (including just 31.7% from deep) for the Mercury.

And while Nurse says she’s “her own worst critic,” she admits she could afford to cut herself some slack — especially since she’s barely gotten to play alongside Diana Taurasi, who missed a month with a fracture in her sternum.

“I’m not necessarily worried about my shot, they’ve felt good, so just continue to find ways to get it a little bit higher over the rim or have a higher release point,” Nurse said. “Not the happiest with where it is but not overly concerned about it either, because I know I haven’t played my best basketball yet. And I still am able to play on an incredible team, my teammates believe in me and I believe in everything they do as well.”

Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello does, too, and believes Nurse playing well is a vital piece that the Mercury will need to turn their 7-9 season around.

“She’s got to stay aggressive — we know she’s going to start making shots and that’s obviously going to help us go to the next level,” Brondello said. “We’ve talked about getting four players in double figures, that’s when teams are most effective, and we’re no different in that regard. [Missing shots], it’s hard, it gets into your head a little bit. You’ve got to just block it out and focus on what you can control, and that’s defense and preparing to shoot. Don’t worry about the result right now, worry about the process. Be process-driven.”

Nurse completely agrees with her coach. And while she said she’d give herself a C right now for the season, she’s ready to keep firing away — for both the Mercury and, in a few weeks, for Team Canada.

“Just continuing to grow each and every day and knowing that, if I can do what I need to on the defensive end — whether it’s a stop we need or if I’m guarding one of the top players there on the guard side — doing my job there and then everything else will start to fall into place as it is,” Nurse said.

Written by Alex Simon

SF Bay Area native, 2x grad (Elon, ASU), adjunct professor at ASU's Cronkite School, editor & journalist always looking to tell unique stories.

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