Nelson looks back on Hall of Fame career

Nelson looks back on Hall of Fame career
August 29, 2012, 4:23 pm
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OAKLAND -- Don Nelson is back in the Bay Area this week inadvance of his induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame on Sept. 7. On Tuesday,Nelson met with a group of writers over lunch, and later in the day he taped anhour-long segment for Chronicle Live, which will air next Thursday the daybefore his induction.Nelson, 72, who had two stints coaching the Warriors, is theNBAs all-time winningest coach. He said a lot of good stuff in the course ofthe day. Here are some things that caught my ear:On never winning an NBA championship as acoach:Nelson: Part of that was my own doing. I had anopportunity when I was with the Milwaukee Bucks -- after we swept the Celtics(1983). After that last game, (Boston president Red) Auerbach we were walkingin the arena together and he said: Would you ever think about coaching theCeltics? As a career move, I should have jumped all over it.I was on a handshake, a year-to-year handshake, with (Warriorsco-owner) Jim Fitzgerald. I just said I couldnt do it because Jim Fitzgeraldwas just so good to me. They won how many championships after that?But I stayed and coached. But it was void of championships.So part of it was my own doing. The other part was I enjoyed taking over badteams and making good ones out of them. I enjoyed building something thatwasnt very attractive and making it attractive . You get a lot of losses doingthat, but I enjoyed it.On where the idea of small-ball camefrom:Nelson: 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 alwayswin. You put Bill Russell on the other team and everybody else big, and put thesmalls on the other and it wasnt a close game as long as it was a full-courtgame. Now half-court you couldnt do that. But full-court, the smalls alwayswon, so Im sure that was the start of it.I could never understand why small players could neverrebound and big players couldnt dribble. They can. They just dont do it. Butin practice big guys can dribble and do a lot of things. Guys like MagicJohnson proved that 6-8 point guard that it could happen if they believethey can do it. So I always asked my small guys to be rebounders and my bigguys to handle the ball and dribble and get into the open court and feelcomfortable there.I think it all started from those practices. Of course, itdidnt hurt that we had John Havlicek on our side in small ball. But the bigguys couldnt get the ball up the court. It was always like 10-2 small guysalways won.On changing his style of coaching in the1980s:Nelson: I was verbally abusive to my players onthe floor too much. You can do that in private and at halftime. You have to dothat as a coach, the discipline and stuff like that. But I was verbally tooabrasive on the floor, I thought. And I had to change that be more like LennyWilkens, a coach I really respected. And I thought I was. I thought that was agood move.More on that style change: Nelson: I thought a positive change in mycoaching career was when I was coaching (former Warrior) Sarunas (Marciulionis)and I was so hard on him because he kept making the same mistake over and overand over.I just didnt allow my players to make the same mistakeover and over and over, and he was so used to playing a certain way, and he wasso gifted physically that he could do all these things. But he couldnt do thatin the NBA.When he kept doing it, I kept getting on him harder andharder and I kind of saw myself watching film what I was turning into. I decidedit would be a good idea to stop doing that and have a different approach. And Istarted to not be as hard on my players. Even though they were fine with it Sarunas wasnt, of course, I was too hard on him. But as long as you werewinning and everything was that good way, they accepted it whatever the coachwas.Bobby Knights players loved him. They still do. But Ithought it was good I made a change at that point.

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