OAKLAND – In his latest moment without ego, Warriors coach Steve Kerr acknowledged Thursday that he studies and steals from the book of Don Nelson.
Moreover, Kerr, who has won three championships in four seasons with the Warriors, insists he’s not the only NBA coach to do so.
“Nellie was ahead of his time,” Kerr said prior to tipoff against the Sacramento Kings. “All the stuff you’re seeing teams do now – playing small and playing up-tempo – he was doing that 40 years ago in Milwaukee.”
Nelson made the trip from his Maui home to Oracle Arena to be present as the Warriors honored the 2006-07 “We Believe” team that he coached to perhaps the biggest upset in NBA postseason history.
Now 78, Nelson took two turns coaching the Warriors, first from 1988-1995, and later from 2006-2010 before retiring. Among his unorthodox strategies were utilizing forwards to initiate offense (“point forward”), playing forwards at center (as Kerr often does with Draymond Green) to increase the pace, using isolation offense whenever there was a perceived advantage.
“He didn’t really get a whole lot of credit for the revolution that’s going on now,” Kerr said, “but he was ahead of his time.”
Nelson’s coaching career spanned 35 years, beginning with the Bucks in 1976. He also coached the New York Knicks and the Dallas Mavericks.
Though he’s No. 1 on the all-time wins list (1,333), Nelson never was able to reach the NBA Finals, much less win a championship.
Coaching the No. 8 seed “We Believe” Warriors, led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, to a first-round playoff victory over top-seeded Mavericks surely ranks among Nelson’s most satisfying achievements.
That series undoubtedly put the final punctuation on a coaching career that landed Nelson in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.