Don Nelson‘s resume is an impressive one. He will go down as one of the top ten NBA coaches of all-time and would get serious top five consideration had he been able to lead a team to a championship. The 1,335 regular season wins he recorded over 31 years with the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, and Dallas Mavericks are the most in league history. Nelson took teams to the playoffs eighteen times and won 75 games in the postseason. He was named NBA Coach of the Year three times and will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame later this year.
As a player Nelson spent the majority of his fourteen year career with the Boston Celtics where was a member of five championship teams. During the 1969-1970 season he averaged a career-best 15.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in 27 minutes per game. He retired in 1976 with career averages of 10.3 points and 4.9 rebounds. In 1978 the Celtics retired Nelson’s #19 jersey.
Prior to his professional days Nelson was a two-time Second Team All-American at the University of Iowa and averaged 21.2 points per game over three seasons.
Tomorrow, Don Nelson will add a college degree from Iowa to his list of accomplishments.
Nelson left Iowa in 1962 just 10 credits shy of his degree in physical education. He needed eight hours of a foreign language and took six hours of correspondence work. He then completed four more hours while he was in Spain.
“I called them, ‘I’ve got my language now what do I need?’ Nelson said. “And they said, ‘Well, you need practice teaching.’ ‘I’m working full-time, I’m not going to have time to go to school and practice teach,’ So I forgot about it.”
“I got my inspiration really from Shaquille O’Neal,” Nelson said. “He went back and got his degree and now he’s going for his doctorate.
“The university, when I retired, said, ‘Well, you’ve been teaching for your whole life in basketball, so we’ll forgive the practice teaching and you’ve got enough credits. So come out.’”
Nelson will have quite the supporting cast to see him receive his degree. Roughly 45 members of his family are expected to attend including his seven children and fifteen grandchildren.
As Nelson mentioned in Shaquille O’Neal, we’ve seen players return to college to finish up their degrees after their playing days but Nelson doing it fifty years later is great to see. Hats off to the university as well for recognizing Nelson’s 31 years of coaching as a form of teaching and waiving the teaching requirement.
After the commencement ceremonies Nelson will hold a press conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena’s practice gym, which can be seen here.
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