Don Nelson to get degree after 50 years
Just a week after Shaquille O’Neal received his doctorate degree, Don Nelson will receive his Bachelor’s degree in physical education that was nearly 50 years in the making.
The winningest coach in NBA history, the now-retired Nelson, who turns 72 next week, will take part in commencement ceremonies this Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on the campus of the University of Iowa.
“The reason I coached all these years was that I enjoyed so much being around young, talented people,” Nelson told the Des Moines Register. “This will be like coaching my teams, really. I love talented, young kids.”
Nelson, who spent 14 years as a NBA player, followed by 31 seasons as an NBA head coach, needed to require foreign language requirements to finally obtain his long-desired degree, which he put on hiatus when he left Iowa in 1962. He was able to complete those language requirements through correspondence/online classes.
“It means a lot to me personally,” Nelson said. “When I went to college, I was the first male in my family with a chance to go. One thing that was important to me was to get a degree. I was in the pros for so long that I had to postpone it until now. But it was a goal of mine, and I’ve achieved it.”
Much like the way he used to leave tickets at games for family and friends, Nelson, who coached just under 2,400 games in the NBA, will have his own cheering section Saturday, with more than 40 friends and family members expected to be on hand to celebrate his achievement.
“I don’t think I’ll get nervous because I don’t have to give a speech,” said Nelson, who splits time between homes in Dallas and Maui, Hawaii. “I do look forward to throwing my hat up in the air. You can do that, right?”
Ironically, O’Neal’s pursuit of his own degree proved to be an inspiration for Nelson.
“He went back and got his degree (from LSU), and now he’s (gone) back to get a doctorate,” Nelson said. “He’s been an inspiration to me. I don’t believe he knows that. I never told him.”
Nelson needed eight hours in Spanish to fulfill the language requirements; he wound up taking 10 hours. The school decided to waive the student teaching portion required for the degree based upon the three-plus decades Nelson has spent coaching young players.