Since Michigan State point guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. graduated in 2018, he has worked for the Phoenix Suns as an assistant in player development, played for the Bahamas national team and even wrote a book, “Purpose Driven.” Nairn had other opportunities in the NBA and elsewhere after this past year, but felt something called him back to his Spartan team.
The decision to return to Michigan State as a graduate manager wasn’t in his hands, he said. Nairn believes he was sent back with a purpose.
“My relationship with God brought me back. God told me to come back to Michigan State,” Nairn said. “I had a couple of other opportunities to go back to the NBA and I prayed about it before I made the decision and God told me to come back.”
The former Spartan floor general said this opportunity is not something he takes lightly.
“I’m going to try to be the best I can be every single day,” he said. “I’m a human just like everyone else, I have imperfections. I try my best by the grace of God not to allow any situation or circumstance to get me down because I think that I am on an assignment here and I just want to do it to the best of my ability.”
Nairn's return goes beyond basketball. Enduring a lot in his life, the wisdom and help Nairn provides is something the players couldn’t put a price on.
“He’s got a lot of knowledge that he can just spread,” senior guard Cassius Winston said. “There’s probably not a lot that people go through that he hasn’t been through. ... He’s here with an open-heart and just there to help us out, get through whatever we need to.”
Acknowledging that he isn’t the only graduate manager, Nairn said he plans to fill in however they need him to in order to help the team.
“I’m not the first grad manager here, so I’m just going to do everything they did as far as watching film, breaking down film — helping out the guys as much as I can,” Nairn said.
Although the Bahamas native may not know all the details of the role he is going to play yet, the coaching staff and players already know the impact he'll make on the team.
“I say all the time that leaders aren’t leaders if people aren’t following, but people follow him and that’s the best compliment you can give somebody,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said. “People follow him in a positive way. He lives his life that way. He’s a special dude, let me tell you.”
Izzo said Nairn is “one of the all-time great communicators,” and that is something that is agreed upon by coaching staff and players. Junior forward Xavier Tillman remembers how vocal the team was with Nairn on it during his freshman year, and how different it felt in his absence.
“His ability to be vocal is huge. I remember my freshman year how energized our practices were and then sophomore year how quiet it was because there was nobody yelling, nobody screaming, nobody encouraging as much as he was,” Tillman said. “Having him back ... having him be a leader and pinpoint what he sees is huge for us.”
Nairn, a three-time captain during his tenure at MSU, always played with passion and spirit. On top of doing whatever he can for the team, he said he believes one of the best things he can do is to be himself.
“I think that’s the best thing anyone can do — be themselves,” Nairn said. “So that’s what I’m going to try to do everyday.”
Part of being himself is being a leader. It’s a trait Nairn said he carried with him since going into college. This part of his identity has not gone unnoticed — it is something Izzo said he loves about him and is excited to see return.
“Draymond Green said when (Nairn) was a freshman, ‘You ever had a freshman captain? You’re probably gonna have one,’” Izzo said. “And that’s how my career with Tum started.”
Izzo said Nairn inspires him.
“He never has a bad day. So if he isn’t good for the players, he’s really good for me,” Izzo said. “He’s just always upbeat, he’s very helpful and he’s very smart. He understands our game.”
After coming up as a guard with Nairn present — and now seeing him return his senior year — Cassius Winston knows how significant it is that he’s coming back.
“A guy that’s been through the war, won some big games for this program, knows what it means to put your all into the program — to have those type of guys around, that’s always going to help us,” Winston said.
Nairn’s year away from MSU was filled with a variety of opportunities and experiences, but to all that knew him before he left, he is still the same person they remember.
“He’s still the same Tum, but he’s got a lot more knowledge, knows a lot more about the NBA and how they are doing things there,” Winston said. “Like I said, he’s seen more, so he knows more and (can) help us out more.”
Sports Illustrated credited Nairn with bringing “unbreakable spirit” to team during his year with the Phoenix Suns, but he said the light he shines with isn’t really him.
“That spirit is called the Holy Spirit. I just try to let God use me in whatever way he wants to use me for his glory,” Nairn said. “If I’m rebounding, I want to serve him. If I’m talking to somebody, I want to serve him … It’s not actually Tum, it’s the spirit of the living God that they see.”
From the Bahamas all the way to the Breslin Center, Nairn has worked hard to get to where he is today. In becoming a published author, assisting on an NBA team and more, he said he strives to spread his message and share his beliefs in whatever way he can.
He doesn’t give credit to his struggles for making him who he is today, Nairn said. He gives credit to how he was able to conquer them.
“It’s not what you go through. It’s how you respond to it,” Nairn said. “We all are placed in certain different circumstances and situations. Everybody has a story. It (doesn’t) matter if you grew up rich or you grew up poor. You have a story.”
There’s no question Nairn’s return is special. Beyond basketball, Nairn will bring back an energy and light that has been missed. While he believes he has been blessed with the opportunity to return, Izzo believes it is the team that is lucky to have him back.
“I’ve got two great graduate managers, but having him back is really special for me and for our program,” Izzo said. “I think it speaks volumes that guys like that want to come back.