06/16/2019 17:15 EDT | Updated 06/17/2019 13:28 EDT

Toronto Raptors Coach Nick Nurse Gets Hero’s Welcome In Return To Canada

The NBA champion gave high fives to the crowd at Pearson airport.

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse smiles during a news conference in Toronto on Sunday.

Toronto Raptors head coach and new national hero Nick Nurse was greeted with an army of fans when he returned to Toronto after his team nabbed the NBA championship in California.

Hundreds of people lined up at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Saturday to welcome Nurse home, as seen in a wholesome video posted by the Raptors on Twitter with a caption that said: “The champ is here!” 

In the clip, Nurse is greeted with rambunctious cheers, which only get louder as he takes a detour so that he can high five nearly every fan waiting to see him. Naturally, people thank him and chants of “We the North” break out.

Nurse was one of the first members of the Raptors contingent to land in Toronto, as many team members opted for an extended victory celebration in Las Vegas.

Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Danny Green, Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin also returned with Nurse on Saturday, while the rest of the team was expected to arrive on Sunday. The coveted Larry O’Brien trophy, which is awarded to the NBA champions, was also travelling with the small group.

On Sunday, Nurse told a group of journalists at the Raptors’ end-of-season news conference that he’s still processing the victory, but that he’s already looking to the future and to the 2019 NBA draft, which is on June 20.

“My thought is always stay hungry,” Nurse said. “Get the guys we want back.”

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse takes questions from the media in Toronto on Sunday.

Nurse is a 51-year-old basketball journeyman who has been a coach for 13 different teams in four countries over the last 30 years. This season was his first as a head coach in the NBA.

“I think you can’t do very good work if you don’t love what you’re doing,” Nurse said after the Raptors dethroned the Warriors on Thursday night. “I just, I don’t know, I never really got discouraged. I didn’t really care at the level I was coaching at, I was just trying to learn and get better. That’s it.”

Clearly, he learned. And he got better.

“He’s one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve seen,” Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire said during Toronto’s victory celebration after the title-clinching win. “When it comes to this team’s success, he deserves every bit of it.”

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse signals during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.

Nurse played at the University of Northern Iowa, started his coaching career there as an assistant and wound up becoming a head coach at Grand View University when he was just 23. He coached in Belgium and Britain. He won a pair of British Basketball League titles as a coach, in Birmingham in 1996 and London in 2000, then got a couple titles in what is now called the NBA G League.

The second G League crown got him noticed. He was at Rio Grande Valley, guided them to a title in 2013 and that’s when the Raptors called and wanted to talk to him about offence. They ended up hiring him as an assistant.

“I remember the day well,” Nurse said. “Good day.”

“Nick has been unbelievable,” VanVleet said after the win. “He’s kind of been the captain of the ship, and he’s weathered the storms, and he’s kept us even-keeled, and he’s made some unusual adjustments and experimented with things. And some things worked and some things didn’t, but he was trying. He tried everything and you’ve got to give that guy a lot of credit in his first year to win a NBA championship.”

Fans who wish to show their support for Nurse and his team will have another chance on Monday at Toronto’s Raptors parade.

With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press

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