Don Nelson, always the iconoclast, said he didn't have a big celebration planned Wednesday night after the former Warriors coach learned earlier in the day that he'd been elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I'm going over to Willie Nelson's house tonight to play poker," Nelson said with a laugh. "How about that?"

Although the official inductee announcement won't be made until Monday, Nelson broke the news himself when he told ESPN midday that he received the call that he's headed to the Hall. He confirmed the news with the Bay Area News Group Wednesday night.

"Very seldom do people get to do something they love to do their whole life," Nelson said. "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."

The 71-year-old Nelson, who left the NBA after the 2010 season with a league record 1,335 coaching victories, was among 12 finalists for induction. He was joined on the finalists list by Jamaal Wilkes, Bernard King and Ralph Sampson, each of whom played with Golden State.

Even though he amassed the highest all-time win total during a 31-year coaching career, Nelson had been snubbed by the Hall in recent years largely as a result of having never won an NBA title as a coach. But he did get his teams to the playoffs in 18 of those 31 seasons, including six times with the Warriors in two different stints.


Advertisement

"Even though I've been nominated a lot, I had a good feeling about it this time, I don't know why," Nelson said. "I thought maybe that now that I'm retired, it could happen. So many people deserve to be in there before I do, of course, like my buddy Al Attles and guys like Bill Fitch. I feel unworthy of the award, but it sure is nice to have it."

Nelson is the only coach to take the Warriors to the playoffs during the past 35 years since Attles last did it in 1975-76, and the only one of the last 14 Warriors head coaches to do so.

Perhaps the most dramatic trip to the postseason came in his second term with Golden State in 2006-07. Hired by one of his former players, then general manager Chris Mullin, Nelson guided the team to its first winning record and playoff appearance since his last full-season go-round with the team in 1993-94. The Warriors not only made the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, they upset the Western Conference top seed Dallas Mavericks — a team Nelson had coached the prior eight seasons — before losing to Utah in the conference semis.

Nelson declined to single out specific highlights of his long career, saying he reveled in all the teams he had in Milwaukee, Dallas, Oakland and even a brief time in New York.

"It's hard to do that, there are so many,'' he said. "Everywhere I've been I've had highlights and wonderful times.

"What I like to do is build things," he continued. "I've been proficient at building teams. I got more fun out of going to a bad team. You get smacked around for awhile and lose a lot of games at first, but when you get things turned around, it's very satisfying. I did in Milwaukee, I did it in Dallas and I really did it twice at Golden State. To do it the second time with Chris Mullin, who I adore, that was really special."

After taking the team to the playoffs his first year back, the Warriors were even better the following season, posting a 48-30 record but missing the playoffs. The team went 29-53 and 26-56 Nelson's final two seasons. After leaving Golden State, Nelson briefly campaigned for a vacancy with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he did not get the job and has not coached since.

Would he return to coaching if called?

"I don't know that," he said. "I'm involved in a company with a friend of mine in Detroit, and we're making some products that haven't been made in America in a long time. I'm having so much fun doing that now, I don't know that I would come back, but you never say never."

In his first Warriors stint, Nelson was the coach of the popular Run TMC teams headed up by Mullin, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond. The club posted a 55-27 record in 1991-92, but was upset by Seattle in the opening round of the playoffs.

In an effort to improve the team's size, Nelson made an ill-fated trade the following season that sent Richmond to Sacramento for forward Billy Owens. Nelson subsequent made a draft-day trade that enabled the Warriors to select Chris Webber in the 1993 draft. Nelson's 1993-94 team won 50 games and made the playoffs, but was swept in the first round by San Antonio. Nelson and Webber had a much-publicized falling out which not only led to Webber being traded, but Nelson being fired after 45 games of the 1994-95 season.

Nelson was 277-260 in his first 6 ½ year run with the Warriors and 145-183 in his second tenure with the club, which lasted four full seasons.

Before coming to the Warriors, Nelson coached for 11 highly successful seasons in Milwaukee, winning seven division titles and reaching an NBA conference final for the only time in his career in 1983-84. He came West when the former owner of the Bucks, Jim Fitzgerald, bought controlling interest in the Golden State franchise.

Current Warriors coach Mark Jackson paid homage to Nelson before Wednesday night's game with New Orleans.

"I don't want to comment as far as the Hall of Game until they officially announce it," Jackson said. "But what I will say is he's a great coach. Record speaks for itself. He truly changed the game with his style, exciting teams, great brand of basketball. He gave himself and his teams a chance to win by going against the norm and being willing to take a risk."

Nelson favored an up-tempo style that emphasized outscoring the opponent over defense. He also liked gimmicks, such as utilizing a "point forward" as well 7-foot-6 Sudanese center Manute Bol, who he often had playing and taking shots from the top of the 3-point arc on offense so he could get back on defense. Nelson was also one of the first coaches to emphasize foreign players such as Lithuanian guard Sarunas Marciulionis.

Oakland's Don Barksdale, a basketball pioneer who was the NBA's first African-American All-Star, was among those already elected into this year's Hall of Fame class on Feb. 24.

Columnist Tim Kawakami and wire service reports contributed to this story.