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Posted by By Rob Peterson on August 31, 2006 at midnight ET


He was the first NBA coach I ever knew.

Growing up in Milwaukee, I remember when the Bucks kicked Larry Costello to the curb halfway through the 1976-77 season and promoted their No. 1 assistant, Don Nelson.

Actually, back in those days, many teams only had one assistant. He was it. But was he really?

He had just finished his playing career with the Boston Celtics after winning his fifth title with the team in 1976. This marked his first time on the bench as anything other than a player.

He was hardly an unknown commodity in NBA circles. After beginning his NBA career with the Chicago Zephyrs (yes, Zephyrs) in 1962, he played two seasons with the Lakers and then the next 10 with the Celtics. He knew the league. But could he coach?

Turns out he could. Nelson inherited a 3-15 Bucks squad, and went 27-37 the rest of the way; a respectable showing when you consider Swen Nater and Kevin Restani manned the middle for the Bucks.

Nellie led the Bucks to the playoffs the next season, then the team missed the postseason in 1978-79. It would be the last season the Bucks would miss the playoffs under Nellie, and Milwaukee was where his legend as a coach began to grow.

In the 1979-80 season, the Bucks went 49-33, won the Midwest Division. Then, division titles became as certain as the sun rising over Lake Michigan. Milwaukee reeled off six straight Central Division titles, never winning fewer than 50 games or finishing lower than third, both of which happened in his final season (50-32, third in the Central) in Wisconsin's largest city.

Nellie had quite a crew in Brew town. He had All-Stars (Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, Terry Cummings and Ricky Pierce), pulled off heists (Cummings, Pierce and Craig Hodges for Marques, Tamika Catchings' dad, Harvey, and Junior Bridgeman) and had some head scratchers (sending Quinn Buckner for a retired Dave Cowens).

He wore fish ties and sneakers with tape over the logos, flung his suit coat at ref in Philly and invented the point forward position. (Remember Paul Pressey?) He had guys named Mo (Paul Mokeski), he brought a 7-4 Breuer to Milwaukee (Randy) and he called Danny Ainge the dirtiest player he had ever seen.

Good times, never boring.

But Rob, why the history lesson, why the weepy nostalgia for a time when defenses didn't pick up the point guard until the top of the key let alone the 28-foot line and a team that allowed 102 points per game was a good defensive squad?

Well, I thought that since Nellie's back for his second stint as head coach with the Golden State Warriors, and stories about where the second-winningest head coach in NBA history sowed the seeds for today will be few and far between.

That, and I wanted to note that Nellie has had moments of genius and madness at each of his coaching stops (OK, in New York it may have only been madness.)

In Golden State, he had Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin, who's now his boss, as Run-TMC. He then dismantled the best nicknamed trio in NBA history, sending Richmond to Sacramento for Billy Owens. He also had the 7-7 Manute Bol jacking threes.

In Dallas, he stuck it to his old team, the Bucks, by trading Robert Traylor for Dirk Nowitzki in a 1998 Draft day deal. Then, every once in a while near the end of his tenure in Dallas, he'd let Avery Johnson coach games, which seemed like madness at the time. But after the Mavs made The Finals in 2006, Nellie again may have been a genius.

Anyway, here's a guy who gave up the good life in Hawaii (see, you still can't peg the guy) to coach a team that 34-48 last season and hasn't seen the postseason since the time everyone thought O.J. Simpson was a cool dude.

And in case you're wondering, Nellie was the last guy to lead the Warriors to the playoffs. The Warriors think the return of good ol' Nellie will be a return to the good ol' days.

Who says life can't start again at 66?


Geoff Lepper of the Oakland Tribune said Nelson will need to get Baron Davis, Jason Richardson and Troy Murphy on the same page: "Now, ending the NBA's longest postseason drought will depend on how those same players respond to Nelson's leadership."

Steve Kerr (yes, that Steve Kerr) of Yahoo! concurrs: "The second reason for bringing back Nelson is this: If anyone can make a connection with Baron Davis, it is Nellie."

(If you want the first reason, click the Kerr link...)

Janny Hu of the San Francisco Chronicle noted the players are hyped: "Warriors players were buzzing over Nelson's arrival."

"'I think we did need to do something. We really kind of limped home at the end of the season and hopefully we can get back on track,'" forward Troy Murphy said. "'The way Dallas would play, how (Nellie) let basketball players be basketball players, that's really the most exciting part of him coming in and coaching.'"


What don't they say?

Eric Gillmore of the Contra Costa Times said the Warriors have a coach who can coach: "So when do Warriors playoff tickets go on sale?

"Right, right. Let's not jump the gun. It's still too early for Warriors fans to make postseason plans, but it's not too early for party hats, champagne and high-fives."

Meanwhile, Mark Purdy of the Mercury News said it was time for a change: "Montgomery should be remembered as the West Coast's best college basketball coach since John Wooden."

Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle wondered why the Warriors were going back for their future: "There's no question that over the 31 seasons this franchise has gone without a championship, the Don Nelson years were the most fun. That, in essence, is what the Warriors have accomplished in bringing the 66-year-old coach back into the fold: The team will be more fun. You can almost see the catchy slogans now, all about memories and nostalgia and wow, weren't those nutty times.

"Isn't it just a little bit sad, though?"

The Oakland Tribune's Art Spander thinks so: "It is certainly bizarre and weird to disinter Don Nelson, but this is the bizarre and weird Bay Area.

"Art Shell, out of the past. Jeff George, out of the past. Don Nelson, out of the past. And if you don't think Barry Bonds isn't coming back to Giants barring a few (heh, heh) legal troubles then you don't know Nostalgiaville. "

Meanwhile, deepinthehearta Texas, the Dallas Morning News's Kevin Sherrington thinks the Warriors are lucky Nellie didn't want to sit around and play pinocchle all day: [Chris] "Mullin hopes to resurrect a few memories. Nellie will cut loose Baron Davis and Jason Richardson, and the Warriors will return to the playoffs this season.

"For now, anyway, it'll be more than enough for Warriors fans. Nellie, too. The beach will wait. "


Golden State of Mind has every Nellie link you could want. Or not. (Hat tip to True Hoop).

Don Nelson has always had a style all his own.
(Ken Levine/Getty Images/NBAE)
2005-06 ARCHIVE
Aug. 2 -- On the Docket
July 18 -- Will They Or Won't They?
July 14 -- Putting Pen to Paper
July 7 -- Fly Without Wings?
June 27 -- Feeling A Draft
May 9 -- A Tale of Two Styles
May 5 -- The Wait Continues
April 28 -- One for the Little Guy
April 19 -- Still Mostly Cloudy
April 14 -- You Can Do Magic
April 6 -- Work to be Done
Mar. 31 -- Will Suns Rise?
Mar. 24 -- Artest Fit For A King
Mar. 17 -- Almost Doesn't Count
Mar. 10 -- A Magical Game
Mar. 3 -- Revenge of the Herds
Feb. 13 -- The Heat is On
Feb. 10 -- Left Out in the Cold
Feb. 3 -- We're Going Streaking!
Jan. 27 -- Trade Winds Blow
Jan. 23 -- Points a Plenty
Jan. 20 -- Give the King a Break
Jan. 13 -- Who's the Man?
Dec. 1 -- Welcome Back, Larry
Nov. 17 -- League Pass Surfing
Nov. 10 -- Setting OWGs Straight
Nov. 4 -- Season Underway
Oct. 27 -- The Central Is Stacked
Oct. 19 -- All Dressed Up
Oct. 14 -- LeBron Out Of Hospital
2004-05 -- Archive
2003-04 -- Archive