Kia Nurse leads on and off the court for Canadian basketball

(Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Phoenix Mercury star Kia Nurse headlined the launch of SLAM Canada, with the basketball magazine featuring a cover story on Nurse’s career thus far.

Nurse, who grew up in Ontario, is no stranger to the sports world. She has four years in the WNBA and nine years within the Team Canada system under her belt, and her family has found success in professional sports as well.

Her brother Darnell is a defenseman for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, and her cousin Sarah Nurse won an Olympic gold medal with Canada’s women’s ice hockey team in February. Sarah is also a member of the PWHPA. Kia and Darnell’s parents, Richard and Kathy Nurse, were athletes as well.

“Having parents who played sports was really helpful just in the sense that they knew what it took and they knew the sacrifices and the accountability needed,” Kia told SLAM. “But I think they also understood what doors this could open for us if we wanted to do it. It was never, ‘You have to play, you have to train.’ We always had the option.”

Nurse played college basketball at UConn, winning two national championships, before being selected 10th overall by the New York Liberty in 2018. After three seasons with New York, she was traded to Phoenix. Through 32 games in the 2021 season, her first with the Mercury, she averaged 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game before going down with a torn ACL in the playoffs.

Phoenix eventually lost to the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals, falling 3-1 in the series.

”I think the hardest thing was just feeling like I wanted to go out there and help,” Nurse said. “I wanted to be able to help contribute to what we were trying to do and not being able to do that, it was hard. By the time [the Finals arrived], I was walking. I was on the bike. I rode the bike a lot. I was doing normal stuff, so mentally it was frustrating, because I felt normal. But I knew the moment that I went to take a jumper or cut that it wouldn’t work.”

Still, Nurse described the support she has received from both the Mercury and NBA’s Phoenix Suns (the teams share a facility) has been uplifting in her journey back. Suns players would ask her how she was each day, she said, and cheer when she made a particularly big step in her recovery.

“Having that additional support and those extra cheerleaders made a huge difference, especially in the first few weeks where you feel like you can’t do anything,” she said. “You don’t get it everywhere in the WNBA, but the Suns are the best allies for us, being there for us.”

The Mercury’s continued belief in her also goes a long way. The team re-signed Nurse in February.

As one of the faces of Team Canada, Nurse shoulders a lot of expectations. But her impact is felt both on and off the court, as Nurse also works with Kia Nurse Elite, the only Jordan Girls EYBL team in Canada. She wants to give every girl a chance to play basketball, she said.

Aware that removing barriers within the sport is key, she’s also working in television broadcasting, hoping to also create more space for women.

“My legacy, I hope, is that I left every single thing I had on the floor out there every single time that I stepped off of it,” Nurse said. “And that’s kind of how I’ve always played. I’ve been a hard-nosed, tough defender. If it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, I promise you, I’ll find a way to impact the game, even if it’s not on there. That’s kind of a nod to my parents. That’s who my parents have been my entire life, impactful in everything they were doing. And so that’s how they raised us to be.”

SLAM Canada featured Nurse as one of the three cover stars on their first issue of SLAM Canada, the magazine’s first international edition. The other cover stars are Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.