Don Nelson

Don Nelson - #19 - Boston Celtics

Forward | 6'6" | 210 lbs. | Born: May 15, 1940

  • No. 19 retired by the Celtics
  • Five-time NBA champion
  • Three-time NBA Coach of the Year
  • NBA's all-time leader in coaching victories

Signed as a free agent with the Boston Celtics on Oct. 28, 1965.


Don Nelson

Don Nelson turned himself into a legend thanks to five championship rings.
NBAE/Getty Images

Don Nelson - Biography

Most NBA fans know Don Nelson for his unparalleled coaching career, but Celtics fans in particular remember his glory days in a jersey from 1965-76.

Nelson ditched the Los Angeles Lakers after two seasons to sign with the hated Boston Celtics on Oct. 28, 1965. He penned his name onto the contract just six months after Boston defeated Los Angeles 4-1 in the 1965 NBA Finals. The move is one that turned Nelson into a key player for the NBA’s best team.

Prior to joining the Celtics, Nelson had never averaged more than 6.8 PPG or 4.5 RPG in any of his three NBA seasons with the Lakers and Chicago Zephyrs. That all changed in Boston, as he had a double-digit scoring average in 11 of his 13 seasons with the C’s. He also averaged 5.2 RPG during those 13 seasons.

Those types of statistical inclines are possible when you’re playing alongside legends like John Havlicek, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and more. With such a stacked roster for so many years, Nelson turned himself into a legend as well thanks to five championship rings.

The first of those five rings arrived in 1966 in Nelson’s first season with the Celtics. Ironically, the 4-3 series victory came against the team Nelson spurned in free agency the prior offseason, the Lakers. He averaged 8.4 PPG and 5.0 RPG while coming off the bench to help the C’s take home their ninth World Championship.

After a brief lapse in 1967, Nelson and the Celtics returned to the top by winning both the 1968 and 1969 NBA titles. Nelson’s postseason statistics were very strong during those two title runs. He averaged 12.5 PG and 6.1 RPG during those two postseasons.

Another banner was raised for the Celtics when they won the 1974 championship, and then they won another in 1976, Nelson’s final season as a player. He had a handful of NBA championship rings before he knew it and provided himself the opportunity to go out on top as a winner.

As everyone in Boston knows, if you’re a key contributor to several titles for the Celtics, you’re likely to have your number retired shortly after you hang up your sneakers. That’s exactly what happened for Nelson in 1978, when the team added his No. 19 jersey to the growing list of legends in the Celtics organization.

It didn’t take long for Nelson to turn his playing success into coaching success. He transitioned beautifully into the coaching and general manager professions in the very first season following his retirement from playing. The Milwaukee Bucks hired him as head coach for the 1976-77 season and Nelson turned them from a 27-win team that season into a 60-win team in 1980-81.

His initial success was a sign of things to come. He would go on to coach 31 seasons in the NBA with just five teams, an incredibly low number considering the longevity of his career. He accrued 1,335 wins during those 31 seasons to become the NBA’s all-time leader in wins as coach. His teams finished with at least 50 wins in nearly half (13) of his 31 seasons.

Nelson’s final season of coaching was in 2009-10 with the Golden State Warriors. He joined the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach as part of the 2012 class of inductees.


Don Nelson

Height: 6'6" Weight: 210 LBS Birth: 05/15/40 College: IOWA '62
Signed as a free agent on October 28, 1965... retired in 1976.

Regular Season Record
Year G MIN FGM FGA PCT FTM FTA PCT OFF DEF TOT AST PF-DQ ST BL PTS AVG
65-66 75 1765 271 618 .439 223 326 .684 - - 403 79 187-1 - - 765 10.2
66-67 79 1202 227 509 .446 141 190 .741 - - 295 65 143-0 - - 595 7.5
67-68 82 1498 312 632 .494 195 268 .728 - - 431 103 178-1 - - 819 10.0
68-69 82 1773 374 771 .485 201 259 .776 - - 458 92 198-2 - - 949 11.6
69-70 82 2224 461 920 .501 337 435 .775 - - 601 148 238-3 - - 1259 15.4
70-71 82 2254 412 881 .468 317 426 .744 - - 565 153 232-2 - - 1141 13.9
71-72 82 2086 389 811 .480 356 452 .788 - - 453 192 220-3 - - 1134 13.8
72-73 72 1425 309 649 .476 159 188 .846 - - 315 102 155-1 - - 777 10.8
73-74 82 1748 364 717 .508 215 273 .788 90 255 345 162 189-1 10 13 943 11.5
74-75 79 2052 423 785 .539 263 318 .827 127 342 469 181 239-2 32 15 1109 14.0
75-76 75 943 175 379 .462 127 161 .789 56 126 182 77 115-0 1 7 477 6.4
TOTALS 872 18970 3717 7672 .484 2534 3296 .769 - - 4517 1354 2094-16 43 35 9968 11.4
Playoff Record
Year G MIN FGM FGA PCT FTM FTA PCT OFF DEF TOT AST PF-DQ ST BL PTS AVG
65-66 17 316 50 118 .424 42 52 .808 - - 85 13 50-0 - - 142 8.4
66-67 9 142 27 59 .458 10 17 .588 - - 42 9 12-0 - - 64 7.1
67-68 19 468 91 175 .520 55 74 .743 - - 143 32 49-0 - - 237 12.5
68-69 18 348 87 168 .518 50 60 .833 - - 83 21 51-0 - - 224 12.4
71-72 11 308 52 99 .525 41 48 .854 - - 61 21 30-0 - - 145 13.2
72-73 13 303 47 101 .465 49 56 .875 - - 38 15 29-0 - - 143 11.0
73-74 18 467 82 164 .500 41 53 .774 25 72 97 35 54-2 8 3 205 11.4
74-75 11 274 66 117 .564 37 41 .902 18 27 45 26 36-1 2 2 169 15.4
75-76 18 315 52 108 .481 60 69 .870 17 36 53 17 46-1 3 2 164 9.1
TOTALS 134 2941 554 1109 .500 385 470 .819 - - 647 189 357-4 13 7 1493 11.1
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