Hall of Famer Don Nelson built his reputation as an NBA head coach on his willingness to experiment with ideas that others considered quixotic at best and dunderheaded at worst. Yet, for all the foolhardiness of trotting out five shoot-first players with little interest in defending, it's difficult to look at pro basketball in 2016 without thinking that Nellie's small-ball concepts have had a major impact. And that's to say nothing of his willingness to deploy bigger players like Dirk Nowitzki based on their skills and not their height.
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It appears that Nelson's penchant for ingenuity has found a new application in the world of consumer products. According to a new feature on the Detroit-based watch, bicycle, and leather goods purveyor Shinola written by Alex Williams for The New York Times, the NBA's all-time winningest coach has been one of the company's "idea generators" since its inception (via Eric Nusbaum):
Ms. [Shinola chief marketing officer Bridget] Russo, apparently, is a true believer. Hardly the first New Yorker to see Detroit as a bohemian mecca, she called the city “a place where there’s still room for artists and free spirits, creativity and new ideas.” [...]
Absent that night was another of Shinola’s idea generators, Don Nelson — yes, that Don Nelson, the coach with the most wins in N.B.A. history. He has traveled with management from the early days as an unpaid adviser.
Mr. Nelson, 75, is a close friend of Mr. [Shinola founder Tom] Kartsotis’s from Maui, where both have houses and play in a regular poker game that includes Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson. (Before Don Nelson’s final year as the Golden State Warriors coach, the 2009-10 season, he tried to hire Mr. Kartsotis as an assistant coach. “I told him, ‘You can sit behind the bench, keep stats, and I’ll do all the coaching,’ because you know, he didn’t know anything about basketball,” Mr. Nelson recalled. “But he’s great with people. I said, ‘You can keep everybody happy.’”) [...]
He is a true believer, too. That night, Mr. Quirarte lifted his right hand to show a small tattoo on the inside of his wrist — a lightning bolt from the Shinola logo, courtesy of Mr. [tattoo artist Scott] Campbell, who has the same tattoo, as does their friend Justin Theroux. So does Mr. Kartsotis. So does Mr. [Shinola president Jacques] Panis. So does Mr. Nelson (it’s his only tattoo).
It's worth noting that Nelson is a very minor figure in this article, which mostly deals with questions regarding Shinola's role in gentrifying Detroit and co-opting the city's blue-collar image while simultaneously creating meaningful jobs. (It's worth reading if you're interested in such issues — the 6-7 Kartsotis, who founded Fossil at just 24 years old, is often labeled as a carpetbagger but brazenly says he started Shinola as a "job-creation vehicle" and not a watch company.)
But any NBA fan who reads these paragraphs can be forgiven for imagining Nellie in the midst of a brainstorming session, throwing out random ideas like making the second hand bigger than the minute hand or making everything move counter-clockwise just for the hell of it. On the other hand, a quick glance at Shinola's website suggests that they don't listen to many of Nelson's ideas, because a proven maximalist clearly had little involvement in the production of these relatively minimalist timepieces.
Daydreams aside, the big story here is that Nelson tried to hire a wealthy watch executive as an assistant coach in his final season with the Warriors. This news may only seem bizarre to those who did not closely witness the franchise in 2009-10, a season best remembered as the final campaign of the Chris Cohan ownership era. The 26-56 Warriors were a group of mismatched parts — a rookie Stephen Curry and especially prolific Monta Ellis were easily the team's two most promising players but did not play to each other's strengths in the slightest, Corey Maggette held the ball for long stretches of possessions, and Vladimir Radmanovic and Anthony Randolph became the NBA's first Martian teammates. Nelson was somehow the least sensible part of the whole operation, leading the team with no discernible plan other than his own pursuit of Lenny Wilkens's record for regular-season wins by a head coach. When he finally set the new mark in early April, his players celebrated by pouring cans of soda on his head instead of the customary champagne. Though I'm sure Nellie would have settled for his favored Bud Light.
So, even though we don't know much about Tom Kartsotis, it's not crazy to think he could have helped this motley crew get along just a little bit better. Anyone who could convince Don Nelson to get a tattoo probably knows what he's doing.
There is one more notable connection between Shinola and the NBA — Cleveland Cavaliers owner and active downtown Detroit developer Dan Gilbert became an investor. Maybe Kartsotis will get that NBA coaching gig if David Blatt can't guide the Cavs to a title this June.
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