During some free time while on a southern California business trip close to 23 years ago, Micah Nori teamed up with a colleague and a 12-year-old boy for a game of 3-on-3 hoops played on an outdoor court in Marina del Rey.
“It didn’t take long for my colleague and I to realize the 12-year-old kid was going to be our go-to guy,” Nori reflected Thursday afternoon, chuckling at the memory.
At the time, Nori was two years into what has evolved into a memorable 25-year career as a highly-esteemed NBA assistant coach.
In addition to tenures with the Toronto Raptors (he was in SoCal in 2000 when the Canadian team was between games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers), he has enjoyed stints with the Detroit Pistons, the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves, the organization that currently employs him as its top assistant.
“Steph’s dad, Dell Curry, was a member of the Toronto Raptors when I was an assistant coach there and Steph and his younger brother Seth Curry (also a lights-out NBA shooter) would attend a lot of practices and shoot-arounds,” said Nori, who has resided in Northville with his family since 2018.
“Steph was around 12 and Seth was only 9 or 10, but they loved to step out beyond the NBA 3-point line and shoot.
“Well, Dell didn’t want them shooting outside of the arc because they were so small; they had to basically heave the ball to get it to the basket.
“So, when Dell would come in for his workout, Steph and Seth would shoot everything inside the line. But the second he’d leave, they’d move right back out there and fire up threes.”
The cooler-than-cool Curry connection is just one of countless Nori and his family — wife Melissa, son Dante’ and daughter Mia — have accumulated over the past two-plus decades.
Micah Nori has developed strong bonds with several NBA players, including Nikola Jokic, who he exchanges texts with on a semi-regular basis.
Unique path to NBA
Nori’s path to the NBA coaching fraternity was unconventional.
A three-sport athlete (baseball, basketball and football) in Middletown, Ohio, he played collegiate baseball at Indiana University before spending time as a baseball coach at Miami of Ohio, where his brother played.
Longtime family friend and Middletown native Butch Carter, the head coach of the Raptors from 1998-2000, stopped by the Nori family’s home in the late-1990s and offered a proposal to Micah.
“Butch asked me if I’d be interested in going up to Toronto and becoming an intern coach for him,” Nori said. “I told him I was pretty much all baseball the past few years, but he said, ‘Sports is sports. It’s not like I’m going to teach you to teach Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady (Raptors at the time) how to shoot a jump shot. I’ll teach you the X’s and O’s and we’ll go from there.'”
Nori accepted Carter’s offer — and a unique journey was born.
Filling a void
A couple years into the Toronto experience, Melissa Nori, a third-grade teacher at the time, was asked by Toronto’s general manager if she’d be interested in teaching U.S. history to the group of American players’ and coaches’ children, many of whom were in the 10- to 12-year-old range.
“The kids would come in Sunday mornings and Melissa would teach them American history for about an hour because that was a subject the Canadian schools didn’t offer,” Micah Nori said. “Two of her students were Steph and Seth Curry.
“To this day, when I see the Curry brothers before or after a game, they’ll approach me and say, ‘How’s Miss Melissa? How’s the family?’ They’re great athletes, yes, but they’re genuinely nice people as well.”
Micah Nori’s transition to coaching the world’s greatest athletes went smoothly — thanks in part to lessons he learned from his father, Fred, a successful high school coach in Middletown.
Treat everyone with respect
“One thing my dad taught me was that no player on a team should feel less important or cared about less than the rest,” he said.
“Obviously, some players in the NBA are going to get more leeway than others, but whether it’s stars like Anthony Edwards and Karl Anthony Townes, or a Luka Garza who’s on a two-way contract, it’s important to find out what their interests are outside of basketball, what motivates them, who you can joke with, who needs an occasional kick in the butt.
“I think (former college football coach) Lou Holtz put it best when he said, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care about them’.”
Nori’s 12-year run in Toronto included roles as an assistant coach, advance scout and director of scouting.
The NBA coaching trail then took him to Sacramento, Denver and Detroit, before he landed in Minnesota prior to the 2021-22 NBA season.
Northville is home
The Noris moved to Northville in 2018 when Micah served as Pistons Head Coach Dwane Casey’s top assistant and they maintained residence there even after he accepted the job in Minneapolis.
Nori said the logistical challenges created by the distance between Minneapolis and Northville are lessened thanks to Melissa’s dedication and his children’s ability to adapt.
“I’m very fortunate, very lucky to have a wife of 20-plus years who is a strong and independent woman,” he said. “It takes a special individual to run everything as smoothly as she does when you take into account how many times we’ve relocated with my jobs.
“Moving as much as we have, the kids have had no choice but to learn how to make new friends at each stop and to be outgoing and come out of their shell.”
Nori said his family loves Northville for a variety of reasons, namely its top-notch schools and the extra-curricular programs it offers Mia, who is into dance, and Dante’, who is one of the top high school baseball players in the country.
Dante’ Nori, a senior-to-be at Northville High School, has committed to playing baseball at Mississippi State University, one of the top programs in the country.
A speedy, multi-talented outfielder, Dante’ Nori was one of just 35 high school juniors invited to play in the Major League Baseball High School All-Star Game and Home Run Derby in Seattle July 7-9 (although Michigan High School Athletic Association rules prohibit him from playing in the game).
Cool ‘Joker’ story
A feature article on Nori’s compelling NBA journey would not be complete without at least one anecdote involving Jokic, the two-time NBA MVP and reigning NBA Finals MVP.
Nori was named Denver’s NBA Summer League head coach in his first season as a Nuggets assistant coach in 2015. Jokic was drafted 41st overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.
“We had some pretty good first-round picks on that (2015 Summer League) team, including Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay, and Nikola was taken in the second round the year before,” Nori recounted.
“Being the smart genius of a coach that I am, I didn’t run any plays for Nikola that summer — and I barely played him.
“To this day, he sends me GIFs of Forrest Gump running with messages saying, ‘That was me in Summer League, running baseline to baseline to baseline’ referring to all the running he did that summer. I replied, ‘I always knew your greatness, it was just my way of motivating you’. He’d reply, ‘Ha ha’.
“Seriously, though, Nikola is the most humble person you’d ever want to meet. If you look at the team photo that was taken right after they won the championship in June, you’ll see (Denver Head Coach) Michael Malone holding Nikola’s NBA trophy and Nikola is in the third row — you can barely see him — on the far-left of the photo, holding his daughter. I love that guy.”