Don Nelson Rumors
The hope in the Curry camp was that he would fall to the New York Knicks at No. 8. As the draft went on, the only team in the way of that happening was the Warriors, whose head coach at the time, Don Nelson, loved the Davidson sharpshooter and wanted to take him at No. 7. As the Warriors’ pick approached, Nelson reached out to Steph’s father, Dell Curry, whose opinion was valued as a 16-year NBA vet, to ask his thoughts about Golden State drafting his son. Dell wasn’t having it. “Don’t,” Dell recalled telling Nelson. “You asked me the question, I’ll tell you the truth. Don’t [draft him].”
To Kuhn, Nelson would represent one of those intellectual anomalies, and an incredibly persistent one. During his 31 seasons on the sideline, Nellie repeatedly questioned basic basketball assumptions. To win you need a big man on the block. Centers should stay in the paint. Players need to fit rigid positions. As Nelson once explained to the San Francisco Chronicle: “I had spent my whole life asking: ‘Why are point guards expected to only pass, why are small forwards expected to only score and why are centers expected to only post up?’” For his efforts, Nelson was alternately celebrated and derided. “Mad scientist” is both a pejorative and a compliment, after all. When Nellie gave Manute Bol the green light to shoot threes in 1988, Bol proceeded to jack up nearly 100 of them; no small feat considering entire teams took less than 250 a season back then. Granted, Bol only made 20, but he appreciated the concept, even if others didn’t. “Some friends told me that when we play the Lakers, the announcer for L.A. said, ‘Doesn’t Nellie know he shouldn’t shoot that? He has no business shooting from out there,’” Bol told the LA Times in 1989. “But (Nelson) said, ‘If you think it’s a good shot, take it.'”
Nellie? After leaving the Warriors in 2010, he headed back to his home in Maui and fell off the basketball map. In 2013, I visited him at his home in Paia. He greeted me in flip flops, looking trim and tan, and led the way to the patio to smoke stogies—he’d cut out beer—and watch the waves, his two dogs lounging nearby. Later, once he figured out the DVR, we watched a Warriors-Grizzlies game. He cackled a lot, praised Andrew Bogut, and cursed David Lee. He took life at its own pace. Long afternoons. Shuffleboard out back of the bistro he owned. And, best of all, poker games in his upstairs man cave. There, he and his buddies—including Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, and Willie Nelson—would get magnificently stoned and play deep into the night. Once, he told me, a beloved regular, Greg Booth, passed away right there during the game, his aorta giving out. The coroner was late arriving, and the group looked to Nellie, who said, “”He’d want you to play on.” So they’d finished the game that night, stepping around Booth’s body to get to the veranda for a smoke. “Poor bastard,” Nellie told me, “but he went out doing what he loved.”
The hole-in-the-wall bar east of the lake, just past the iconic Grand Lake Theatre, featured beer, scotch, Nelson, Jackson’s newest teammate Baron Davis, and Nelson’s favorite game: Shuffleboard. “We played shuffleboard and drank scotch for hours,” Jackson said. “Talking about pissy drunk.” For the rest of the night, Nelson, Jackson and Davis talked strategy and life before the coach made a declaration. “Nellie tells me and BD while we’re drunk: ‘You guys are going to be my captains. You run this team, and we’re going to have fun.’ ” Jackson said.
Now that your jersey has been retired here in Milwaukee, the next thing people bring up is the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. You were named a 2019 finalist in February. Do you allow your brain to wander and think about that possibility? I know both you and Sidney [Moncrief] are finalists this year and you each have similar resumes. Marques Johnson: I told Nellie this when I invited him out for the jersey retirement about a month ago and I had been name a finalist. It’s my first time being named a finalist. Sidney’s been a finalist before and didn’t make. I told Nellie, “If Sidney makes it and I don’t make it, I’m fine with that. Sidney deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.” Sidney is the second greatest two-way player, in terms of shooting guards, behind Michael Jordan. Defensive Player of the Year. He could average 25 a game if he wanted to, averaged 21, 22 here.