Hall of Famer Don Nelson thrilled to be retired
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Don Nelson never knew just how much he would love retirement. In the Maui plantation town of Paia, he is far from the pressures of the fast-paced NBA lifestyle in which he thrived for more than three decades to become the game's all-time winningest coach.
These days, he's Nellie, the entrepreneur. From his new shaved ice stand, to coffee plants and koa trees, to all his rental properties and a wedding venue in the works right off the beach, the 72-year-old Nelson is about as far removed from his old basketball life as he could be.
Except for the fact he is a Hall of Famer at last, set to be enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 7 in Springfield, Mass. After years of being left off the list, Nelson was surprised it finally happened considering he never won that coveted NBA championship during 31 years on the bench with the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks.
It never bothered him much. He's in a relaxed, Hawaii state of mind.
Nelson also farms flowers — he gives them away because "there's not much money in flowers" — and will make olive oil from his olive trees. He's even dabbling in dog food.
"It's treating me well. I'm a lucky man," he said of island life. "I found out that there's life after basketball, which is very exciting. I really haven't missed it that much, but I've been very busy, so that's probably part of the reason."
"I invested my fortune on Maui," he added with a smile. "Those are the fun things I'm doing."
He plays poker at least three times a week with his close-knit group of friends and has become a decent golfer. Those are the guys he called when he got word he was headed to the Hall.
"I always kind of felt I was undeserving of getting there," he said. "I still feel unworthy, really. Somebody voted for me, I guess. ... I didn't have a feeling of what it would be. It's really nice. It's a pinnacle of everybody's career."
Nellie always did things his way, and it hardly mattered who objected to his coaching techniques. He ranks No. 1 on the NBA wins list because of it. From his all-guard, up-tempo "Nellie Ball" lineups to his feuds with fiery Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and even publicly calling for struggling Warriors center Andris Biedrins to shoot underhanded, "granny style" free throws, Nelson had a distinct way of coaching that made him one of the greatest of all time.
"I've had one of those very special lives, really, I've been in the NBA since I was 22," he said. "So it's almost 50 years of my life I've been in the NBA. ... You have a lot of ups and downs in coaching, especially, but I can't remember any bad times at this point. I mean, they're all good. A lot of tears when you lose, a lot of down times, but I can't remember any of them. They're all positive now. Even the bad times were good. One of those storybook lives, really."
Nelson said he didn't intend to define himself by playing small ball — "If I'd have had good big players, I'd have played big ball."