Don Nelson has the most wins in NBA coaching history with 1,335, yet has zero NBA Finals wins.Thus, we can say with confidence that Nelsons induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame is a tribute to his body of work, even though he becomes the first coach never to have either won a championship or taken his team to a title gamegames.This is in and of itself a remarkable achievement, then, as Nelson has always been among the most difficult of coaches to understand. He was a high priest of orthodoxy early in his coaching career in Milwaukee, but became known more as a master tinkerer later on. He won more games than anyone but was defined in large part by his inability to clear the last two hurdles. He is admired for his creativity, yet derided for his eccentricity.In short, he is going to be one of the most debated inductees in the history of the Hall. Not because he doesnt have a perfectly good case to be inducted, but because his case is so different than everyone elses.Halls of fame can often be a strange mixture of statistics and politics, and Nelson had been a finalist often in the past. But while he won often as a player with the Russell Celtics (Nelson was a bruising power forward at the back end of the Boston dynasty), he wasnt a Hall of Famer in uniform. And as a coach, his best work was probably his early work with the Milwaukee Bucks of the early 80s, a team that could never quite navigate around Boston or Philadelphia.Indeed, the fact that he had to wait as long as he has suggests that there was fevered debate inside the room over a series of years about his Hall-worthiness. Having the most wins is a nice bauble, but his credentials were made by the early 2000s.Thirty-one years of coaching has its own metric tonnage, and in three different cities over three different decades, he took 18 teams to the postseason, eventually passing Lenny Wilkens as the coach with the most regular season victories. Wilkens edges him when you throw in postseason wins, in case youre wondering.Nelsons inclusion, then, will create a good deal of debate between now and the actual date he is installed. He changes the template by which future coaches are evaluated, and while he is not unworthy, he changes the debate about the nature of Hall of Fame coaches. Indeed, the fact that this is the Basketball Hall of Fame, and not the NBA Hall of Fame, makes it even more confusing down the road.Nevertheless, his plaque will shine just like the rest, and he has made the Hall safer for innovators and outside-the-box thinkers (Tex Winter's induction in 2011 comes immediately to mind as another mold-breaker) whose resumes may not otherwise be traditionally complete. If that is his true legacy, then his admission serves a greater purpose for the game.
Nelson takes unique resume into Hall
March 29, 2012, 1:53 am