Don Nelson's innovation leads to induction
Nelson got the call Wednesday morning that he will be among this year's Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class.
"It's a great honor to cap my career," the one-time Mavericks coach said. "I've had a great time and a great life coaching basketball. I don't actually need to be rewarded for anything, but I am very proud and my family is very proud of this award."
Nellie Ball included small ball and point forwards and an emphasis on playing fast and scoring in bunches.
He traded for a little-known, mop-topped, 7-foot teenager from Germany named Dirk Nowitzki at the 1998 draft. Nelson set him free to shoot 3-pointers and the future course of the Mavs’ franchise, one of the worst in the NBA if not in all sports during the 1990s, was set.
When owner Mark Cuban bought the team on Jan. 4, he kept Nelson at the half. Trades for Steve Nash and Michael Finley (prior to Nelson's arrival) landed the Mavs a Big Three, and Nelson guided the Mavs to the Western Conference finals in 2003 for the first time since 1988.
Nelson stepped down with 18 games remaining in the 2004-05 season, handing the reins to assistant coach Avery Johnson, who a year later led the franchise to its first NBA Finals.
“I enjoyed building teams,” Nelson said. “I enjoyed going into cities that had losing records and getting involved in their franchise and building it into a contender. When you do it that way you end up with teams that won 20 games the year before. It forces you to be innovative to be competitive. It’s a necessity to learn how to do it to be competitive.”
Nelson took over the 1997-98 Mavs after a 4-12 start under Jim Cleamons, who won 24 games in his first season. Nelson went 19-31 in the lockout-shortened 1999 season and then had Dallas flirting with .500 at 40-42 the next season, paving the way for 11 consecutive playoff appearances.
The relationship between Nelson and Cuban soured toward in the final years and hit a low point with a contentious lawsuit. In 2007, Nelson revived the Golden State Warriors in his second stint there and relished the moment as his eighth-seeded Warriors, calling them a bunch of “schmoes,” ousted the No. 1 seed Mavs in the first-round series.
Nelson said he and Cuban have reconciled and exchanged text messages Wednesday after Nelson received the news of his inclusion.
When asked for his reaction, Cuban said via email, "I'm happy for Nellie. He deserved it."
Now that Nelson will be among the game’s greats in the Springfield, Mass., shrine, does he still have a passion to coach? He was highly interested in the Minnesota Timberwolves opening that was went to Rick Adelman.
Would the right job lure him back for a chance to add to his 1,335 career victories?
“That’s a good question,” Nelson said. “I would doubt it. But, I would never say no.”
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