Kia Nurse knows the spotlight will be on her this weekend, and she plans to make the most of it.
The New York Liberty’s sophomore sensation will be one of the starting guards at Saturday’s WNBA all-star game in Vegas.
And she’s earned it, stealing the show in her second-year on Broadway.
Drafted with the 10th pick in last year’s draft, the 23-year-old from Hamilton, Ont. flew under the radar to start her WNBA career — at least south of the border — but wants to take advantage of being centre stage by offering a path to success for the next generation of female athletes.
“It’s always exciting to be able to show young girls from Canada that they have the opportunity to get to this level and be an all-star, enjoy what they’re doing and play basketball for a living,” she told Sportsnet.
Nurse was paying attention as the U.S. women’s national soccer team used its platform at recent the World Cup to make a push for pay equity and better working conditions.
It’s a sentiment that hit close to home for Nurse, who plays in a league where the maximum veteran salary without bonuses is US$115,000, rookies are paid on a scale from $40,000 to $50,000 and the majority of players head overseas in the off-season — Nurse played in Australia’s WNBL — to supplement their take-home pay.
These are numbers that pale in comparison to the nine-figure contracts that are commonplace in the NBA.
“I think there’s a lot of different things that need to continue to get better and grow within women’s sports, but representation matters,” she said, acknowledging progress has been “slow” in WNBA, which faces a CBA deadline in the fall.
“So for young women to see a Megan Rapinoe standing up and speaking her voice, using her voice the way she does, not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of everyone, I think that’s going to be something that allows us to say, ‘it’s OK to be strong, to have a voice, to want to do this.
“And because they see someone like her on the TV all the time, they can use that and say, ‘Oh that looks just like me, I can do that, I can be at the World Cup, I could win the World Cup and I could use my platform.’ And that’s something that’s really special to watch.”
What Nurse has done on the court this season has also been special.
Her numbers have exploded across the board with her scoring soaring from 9.1 points per game to 15.4, good for ninth in the league, and her three-point shooting jumping from 29.4 per cent to 35.5 (21st).
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 12, 2019
Nurse has had such an astronomical rise, that despite her confidence, it’s even caught her off-guard.
“It was huge for me,” Nurse said of the all-star recognition.
“It’s been a goal of mine. I didn’t know if it would come this early in my career, but I’m very fortunate for everyone who voted for me from the fan side, to the coaches, the players, and I’m super excited for the game.”
Nurse found out about the “shocking” news after landing in Chicago for a road trip. She proceeded to call members of the Nurse clan, one of Canada’s modern first families in sports.
“That was really fun to hear their reactions. They’re really excited, (but) I think they were more excited that they get to come to Vegas, too,” she said, adding that she was pumped to hang out with her “best friend” and “biggest fan” in Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse.
— Darnell Nurse (@drtwofive) July 4, 2019
Though she may be one of the fresh faces at the all-star game, she’s grown comfortable going head-to-head against the league’s top talents.
Nurse’s game log boasts five 20-plus point outings, including a bucket-for-bucket, 26-point showdown against the WNBA’s leading scorer and six-time all-star Brittney Griner earlier this month.
“You get to see these teams with these players 30 times a year, so now, coming into my second year, it gives me a different comfort level and understanding that you’re going to face some of the best players in the world every single night and how you are going to use your strengths to your advantage,” she said.
“And then, obviously, their weaknesses against them, which they don’t really have many of, so it’s always a test trying to find that,” she added with a laugh.
Given her reputation as a tenacious defender first and scorer second coming out of the University of Connecticut, Nurse’s evolution into a deadly offensive presence may come as a surprise to some.
Leaning into the stereotype of a modest Canadian, Nurse said it comes down to her fit in New York’s system.
“My job (at UConn) was to play defence, lock down the offensive player, play my role and knock down shots if I was open,” said Nurse.
“Whereas here I’m more of a primary scoring option, which is something that I was before I got to UConn.”
But Nurse knows she still has some shortcomings on offence — she wants to work on using ball screens to give her more options — and will need to grow as her opponents hone in on her current repertoire and try to take away her shots.
Ultimately, she wants to rid her game of any holes.
“My goal as a player in this league, I want to be unstoppable, and there’s a long way to go for that,” she said.
“That would be the peak for me as a player, if I was unstoppable on both sides of the floor.”
And whether they’re checking out highlights on their phones or taking in the all-star game live, Nurse hopes she can inspire the next generation of female athletes to adopt a similarly fierce attitude.
“To all the young women’s basketball players who are out there, I’m really excited that they’ll be able to watch it on TV, I know they’re showing it out there, but this could be (them) at any moment, any day, whenever they want,” she said.