As RGV Vipers general manager Rene Borrego watched the Toronto Raptors during their NBA Finals series victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, he was reminded constantly of the Vipers.
The common denominator there was Raptors rookie coach, Nick Nurse, and, one could say, the Warriors, as well.
Nurse coached the Vipers to the 2013 NBA D-League championship (before it became known as the G League), their second of three titles. He is the first coach to win a G League and an NBA title.
“It really feels great to see that all the work we put into this with the Vipers comes to fruition,” said Borrego, who has a plaque hanging in his office of The Monitor’s sports section the day after winning the 2013 title. “We want the people from the front office to the coaches to the players to see and be part of great things like this. It’s really neat.”
The Vipers captured their third championship this past season with their own rookie coach, Joseph Blair, leading the way.
“This is a true testament to the organization and the G League as a whole for players and coaches,” Blair said. “It’s a big step for the Vipers to show McAllen and the area that the organization is serious about helping people get to the next step and that we carry ourselves to the top of professionalism to help them.”
Borrego said the Raptors’ championship shows a lot about the Vipers and their organization. He said their goal isn’t to win — winning is great of course, he added — but it’s about advancing the careers of those who come through.
“That’s our goal: to help the people who come through our system to get to the next level — the championship is gravy on top of it,” Borrego said. “Whether it’s the players or coaches, trainers, sales people — we have some with Los Angeles and San Antonio — it’s just been amazing to watch. This helps show that we are doing our job and reaching our goals.”
The Raptors’ up-tempo style of play, being offensive- oriented but also playing lockdown defense, is very similar to what Nurse brought to the Rio Grande Valley. In fact, Borrego said one of the attractions for Nurse to come to the Vipers was knowing he would have the opportunity to experiment with the system.
During their run to that title, the Vipers went 6-0 in the playoffs, sweeping both Maine and Tulsa before taking the brooms to Santa Cruz, winning at home 102-91 in the title tilt.
“He is a great tactician,” Borrego said of Nurse. “Some of the stuff we would try back then was so innovative; his style of run and gun, get the shots up, make all the 3s possible and then get back. Everything you see there is what he would do with is. It was a good system and he is a student of the system.”
Nurse played at Northern Iowa, starting his coaching career there as an assistant before becoming a head coach at Grand View University when he was just 23 years old. 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. He won two D-League titles, as well.
The second D-League crown — with the Vipers — got him noticed. It was after that 2013 title that the Raptors called and wanted to talk to him about offense. They ended up hiring him as an assistant.
“I remember the day well,” Nurse told the AP. “Good day.”
Ironically, when Nurse won that 2013 title with the Vipers, his opponent was the Santa Cruz Warriors, the affiliate of the Golden State Warriors, who lost to Nurse’s Raptors on Thursday.
Just another good day for Nurse.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.