Don Nelson enters Hall at ‘time of my life’
By Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY
Don Nelson watched the Miami Heat win the 2011-12 NBA championship with joy.
Playing often without a true center on the court and using players in non-traditional roles, such as forward LeBron James as a primary ball-handler, the Heat employed small-ball — a Nelson innovation — to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I got a kick out of Miami winning it all,” Nelson said by phone from his home in Maui. “They didn’t use their big lineup all that much. They really matched up and caused problems for Oklahoma City. I thought Erik (Spoelstra) did a great job coaching.”
When Nelson is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday as a coach, it will be the result of not only an NBA-record 1,335 victories but also because of his offensive influence on the game.
Nelson and 10 others will be inducted in ceremonies beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV: Lidia Alexeeva, Don Barksdale, Mel Daniels, Phil Knight, Katrina McClain, Hank Nichols, Reggie Miller, Ralph Sampson, Chet Walker and Jamaal Wilkes. The All-American Redheads, pioneers in women’s basketball, will be inducted in the team category.
“It’s a great feeling actually, probably the pinnacle of anyone’s career. I just feel lucky and fortunate to be a member of this year’s class,” Nelson said. “Even today, I don’t feel worthy of being in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is for greatness. I’m a lot of things, but none of them are great.”
Nelson finished his 14-year playing career with the Boston Celtics in 1976 and contemplated what to do with the rest of his life. He almost ended up on the court as a referee. Instead, he is a a three-time NBA coach of the year and was named one of the top 10 coaches in NBA history in 1997.
“I needed a job. It’s pretty simple. I was 36 and quit playing, looking around for something to do,” Nelson said. “I was a summer league referee and I was going to try my hand at refereeing.”
But Wayne Embry, then general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, called Nelson and asked … [For more on Don Nelson enters Hall at 'time of my life', click here.]