Don Nelson is still no.1 on the all-time wins list in NBA history as a coach. Nelly racked up 1335 wins as a coach with only four teams – the Bucks, Warriors, Knicks, and Mavericks. What’s even more impressive he didn’t have Jordan, LeBron, or Kobe in any of those teams. The best players he ever coached?
“Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash.”
Interestingly enough, none of those to Hall of Famers aren’t the player Nelson said he learned most from. Out of all the players he coached, Nelson pointed out Šarūnas Marčiulionis as that player. After coaching Marčulionis in Golden State, Nelly decided to relax and change the way he approached coaching. That’s how Run TMC happened. Nelly told the team that he would call no plays as long as they shared the ball and played the right way.
“Probably something guys wouldn’t do now. Middle of season, playing well, he [Nelson] would just walk to the chalkboard and put up 120 and circle it. ‘Let’s go 120 tonight and let’s get out of here.‘ No scouting report, no defense. That was nice, that’s a cool way to come and play the game.”
Chris Mullin, The Habershow Podcast
Nelson is also a part of the biggest ‘what if’ in NBA history, and I’m not talking about trying to trade Patrick Ewing out of NYC to try and get Shaq in the draft. (That’s why he was in New York for only one year, or as Nelson would say, “for a cup of coffee”).
After Red McCombs bought the Spurs in 1992, he fired the entire staff, including the lead assistant Gregg Popovich. Nelson hired Pop as an assistant in Golden State. In ’94, Pop returned to the Spurs as the general manager and tried to bring Nelson as the head coach with him. If the Warriors had let Nelson go, we might’ve never seen Greg Popovich as the head coach of an NBA team.
Don Nelson is a basketball romantic. The original pioneer of small ball in the NBA. When Red Auerbach called him to take over the Celtics, he refused because he had given the Bucks owner, Jim Fitzgerald, his word. But Nelly didn’t refuse a sure championship just out of principle. By his own admission, Nelson liked coaching teams at the bottom, rebuilding the organization, and playing an attractive style the fans loved.
He did that for 31 years, winning 1335 games and the hearts and minds of players and fans all around the NBA.