Nelson was at his best while coaching Bucks
Modern NBA fans may not remember, but Don Nelson's best seasons on the bench were his first ones – 11 years spent racking up division titles with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Twenty-five years after Nelson and the Bucks parted ways – and two years after the Golden State Warriors let him go while he was the NBA's leader in coaching wins with 1,335 – the onetime fish tie-wearing, tractor-driving Wisconsin icon told several news outlets Wednesday that he's been informed he'll be part of this year's group of Basketball Hall of Fame inductees.
The Hall will officially announce the 2012 class Monday at the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans.
Nelson, 71, never won a championship in 31 seasons as an NBA coach, but he went on to lead the Golden State Warriors (twice), the New York Knicks and the Dallas Mavericks after his departure from Milwaukee.
"Very seldom do people get to do something they love to do their whole life," Nelson told the San Jose Mercury News on Wednesday. "But I'm a lucky guy to stay in the business as long as I did. This is just frosting on the cake. It doesn't get any better than going into the Hall of Fame."
In Milwaukee, Nelson took over as coach and general manager of a 3-15 team during the 1976-77 season and slowly molded it into a winner. The Bucks won their first of seven straight division titles in 1979-80, and Nelson became known for his ability to succeed while using unorthodox lineups that included both a point forward and overmatched centers.
Nelson, who grew up in Iowa and spent most of his 14-year playing career with a dominant Boston Celtics team that won five championships during his time there, landed with the Bucks in the first season after he retired as a player. He quickly endeared himself to Bucks fans, both by winning games and driving a tractor across the state each summer to raise money for Wisconsin farmers. Fish ties became his signature look late in his career with Milwaukee, and Nelson came to symbolize the underdog Bucks' annual fight against the big-market success of the powerful Philadelphia and Boston teams that seemed eliminated his squad from the playoffs each season.
Nelson led the Bucks to three Eastern Conference finals and didn't repeat that success until he took his 2002-03 Mavericks team to the Western finals. He resigned from the Mavericks during the 2004-05 season and then returned to Golden State – where he coached from 1988-95 – for a last stand with the Warriors from 2006-10.