“Hopefully, this will be the last tuxedo I’ll be wearing.
“There is life after basketball. Come out and have a cup of coffee with me in Maui.”
—Don Nelson, the legendary Celtics player and the winningest coach NBA history, during his induction into the Hall of Fame speech Friday.
After Nelson chased after the Minnesota Timberwolves job in 2011 (Rick Adelman won out) it was thought he might try to return to coaching. But if he has made one thing clear during the run-up to his enshrinement, it is that he is done.
Because if your life is running a shave ice stand, drinking scotch while watching the sunset in Maui and playing poker with your buddies, well, who needs the NBA?
Don Nelson is deservingly going into the Hall of Fame as a coach this week — he has won more games than any NBA coach ever, he was the innovator of small ball.
But at every stop he seems to be asked, “are you coming back?” He did have some conversations with the Minnesota Timberwolves last summer, so maybe…
No. Not happening. Nelson is done coaching in the NBA, Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated reminds us. And he reminds us that Nelson retired to Maui for a life most of us dream about.
So no, the play-caller who was 1,335-1,063 in 31 seasons with Milwaukee, Golden State, New York and Dallas won’t be leaving his life of poker games, shaved ice stands, coffee and olive trees, and beachfront property in order to chase yet another coaching opening. He did agree to leave the islands for Friday’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, though, and he’ll do so as a man who appreciates the invite and is at peace with his legacy….
“I’m having so much fun not coaching in a life that I didn’t know about, doing all these interesting things,” Nelson said. “I didn’t know that I was going to have so much fun not coaching. There is life after basketball. I didn’t know that. I know it now. And I would not go back.”
Is that clear enough for you?
Some owner is going to reach out to Nelson next summer when he is looking for a new coach. It’s inevitable. But the part of Nelson that entertained those calls and ideas is distracted by the Maui sunsets now.
Don Nelson will enter the Basketball Hall of Fame as the coach who has won more games than anyone else in NBA history. He will go in as an innovator, a team builder, a guy who colored outside the lines and that worked for him.
One of the things Nelson liked to do was play small and fast — small ball. Run the other guys out of the gym with your athletes and tempo.
Look around the NBA right now and you see the Heat winning a title once they went small with Chris Bosh at center. You see Boston trying to challenge them by going small with Kevin Garnett at center. You see big men who are a little smaller and a lot more mobile being the guys teams covet.
Don Nelson was at the start of that. But he told CSNBayArea.com he got it from legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach when Nelson was a Celtics player (via TrueHoop).
”It all happened in the Celtic practices. What Auerbach would do when it got to midseason and practices were drudgery, was he would play big guys against the small guys and the smalls would always win. You put Bill Russell on the other team and everybody else big, and put the smalls on the other and it wasn’t a close game as long as it was a full-court game. Now half-court you couldn’t do that. But full-court, the smalls always won, so I’m sure that was the start of it.
“I could never understand why small players could never rebound and big players couldn’t dribble. They can. They just don’t do it. But in practice big guys can dribble and do a lot of things. Guys like Magic Johnson proved that – 6-8 point guard – that it could happen if they believe they can do it. So I always asked my small guys to be rebounders and my big guys to handle the ball and dribble and get into the open court and feel comfortable there.
“I think it all started from those practices. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we had John Havlicek on our side in small ball. But the big guys couldn’t get the ball up the court. It was always like 10-2 – small guys always won.”
The old basketball adage that “tall and good beats small and good” is being challenged. Which is good for us as fans — up tempo, slashing teams are a lot more fun to watch than plodding defensive ones.
And we have Nelson to thank for that. And Auerbach.