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OAKLAND, Calif. – Don Nelson will officially enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday. But there is one notable person that thinks the NBA's all-time leader in coaching victories should not be inducted.
"I don't really feel deserving to be in the Hall of Fame, but I am in and I'm happy about that," Nelson told Yahoo! Sports. "It's a great, great honor. There are a lot of guys who deserve it more than me that haven't got in yet like Al Attles, Bill [Fitch], [Dick] Motta and those guys. They were real coaches. Man, did they ever coach.
"So I feel a little undeserving. But anyway, here I am. Here I come."
Nelson walks into the Hall of Fame with one thing that can't be questioned. His record win total.
Through 11 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks – the first beginning in 1976 – 11 seasons in two stints with the Golden State Warriors, one short-lived campaign that lasted 59 contests with the New York Knicks and eight seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, Nelson earned a record 1,335 victories. He downplayed his excitement about surpassing Lenny Wilkens' old mark as he approached it. But Nelson showed his true feelings by dancing with players following record win No. 1,333 in the struggling Warriors' 116-107 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 7, 2010.
"That team that I coached that I love so dearly wanted me to have that record so bad," Nelson said. "And they worked so hard for me to get it that I got caught up in it just like they did. They were excited. I got excited. Personally, second would have been fine with me."
Nelson wore fish ties early in his career and sneakers with his suits, yet for all his quirkiness, his innovative schemes and personnel decisions made an impact on the league. Nelson was big on using small ball, sometimes playing Golden State guards Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Sarunas Marciulionis together. He started Hack-A-Shaq. He allowed the late Manute Bol, a 7-foot-7 center, to shoot 3-pointers. He once had 7-foot forward Dirk Nowitzki guard 5-3 guard Muggsy Bogues.
"I didn't do it to be different," Nelson said. "I did it because I thought it gave me an advantage to win games – otherwise I wouldn't have done it. When I coached good teams, I didn't have to do that. But when I coached bad teams I had to be creative."
One of Nelson's highlights was coaching Dream Team II as the United State won the world championships in 1994. He claimed five championship rings as a player for the Boston Celtics. But as an NBA coach, Nelson never led his team to a title.
"I don't think about it that much because it never happened," Nelson said. "It wasn't for a lack of trying. I tried every year. I coached to get the best out of the team I could. I think I did a good job of that. But there are a lot of good coaches who never won a title."
Nelson had a good run as the Mavericks' coach, but his relationship with owner Mark Cuban soured. Nelson guided the Warriors to a stunning upset of the top-seeded Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 playoffs.
"I haven't heard from Dallas," Nelson said in regards to making the Hall of Fame. "But that's (Mavs owner Mark) Cuban. He's not going to do anything. I don't blame him."
The biggest knock on Nelson was he didn't get along with younger players, most notably rookies. Nelson quickly dismissed the notion as "full of [expletive]." He did, however, say there were exceptions without naming names. One certainly had to be Chris Webber.
The Warriors acquired Webber as the No.1 pick in the 1993 draft. He was named Rookie of the Year, but clashed with Nelson in his first year. Golden State ended up trading Webber to the Washington Bullets for forward Tom Gugliotta and three draft picks on Nov. 17, 1994. Nelson stepped down as coach and general manager on Feb. 13, 1995.
"He was a talented young player, but he was very difficult to coach early in his career," Nelson said. "I'm not the only coach that had trouble. Until he matured and knew what it was all about he was a difficult guy to coach."
Nelson interviewed for the T'wolves job recently only to have it go to Rick Adelman instead. Nelson now says he is done with coaching for good.
"I feel good about where I am in my life and I got bigger fisher to fry now," Nelson said.
Nelson's coaching victories and outside the box imprint on basketball makes him more than deserving for the Hall of Fame regardless to whether he truly begs to differ or won a title. He enters the Hall of Fame with no regrets and hopes his epithet will simply read: "He was a really good coach."
"I can't remember any regrets, to be honest with you," Nelson said. "I can't remember a bad day and I know I've had a lot of them. Looking back in the league, it's all positive and wonderful. Who else gets to do something for almost 50 years that you love? Who does that?
"It's like saying, 'I love ice cream and for 50 years I want to just eat ice cream.' That's what happened to me."
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