Go Nellie

Maui resident Don Nelson returns to the Islands with his team, the Golden State Warriors, to play two games against the Los Angles Lakers at Stan Sheriff Center

With Coach Nelson's help, Monta Ellis was named the NBA's Most Improved Player last season
With Coach Nelson’s help, Monta Ellis was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player last season

In an era when most head coaches and managers in all sports have developed into control freaks, Don Nelson of the Golden State Warriors provides a pleasant and welcome departure from the norm.

His run-and-gun approach works. The proof is in the winning. The man known as Nellie enters the coming season with the second most coaching victories in National Basketball Association history.

And his team is coming off a season in which it not only qualified for the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years,but also pulled off the greatest upset in NBA playoff history.The eight-seeded Warriors didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the final night of the season and then stunned the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks, four games to two, in a best-of-seven opening-round series.

Making the victory doubly sweet is that it came at the expense of a team he created almost from scratch. Even following an ugly breakup with team owner Mark Cuban, Nellie’s fingerprints are all over the Mavs.The general manager is his son Donnie.The team is coached by his hand-picked successor Avery Johnson.

Don Nelson
Don Nelson

And the Dallas roster is filled with players Nellie drafted and developed, most notable among them being reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Dirk Nowitzki, a 7-footer who has helped revolutionized the sport by capitalizing on skills normally associated with much smaller men.

Don Nelson’s outlook, his methods and his personality reveal an open-mindedness not normally associated with a man in his 67th year. Quite the contrary: On the court Nelson employs tactics that border on revolutionary, even if those methods are strongly based on old-school principles.

We spoke with Nelson days before his team’s arrival in Hawaii for a training camp at the BYU-Hawaii campus in Laie, and for a pair of exhibition games against the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers at Stan Sheriff Center.

Nellie makes a point with Al Harrington
Nellie makes a point with Al Harrington

He seemed and sounded excited about the coming season following a prolonged period of R&R on Maui,a place he unabashedly calls home and where he is a member of the King Kamehameha Golf Club and owns, in his words, “many places.”

The basics of the freewheeling style known as Nellie Ball are a result of the coach’s influences and out of necessity. Let Nellie explain.

“When I first started (coaching) in Milwaukee,we played with a more traditional approach,“Nelson recalls, warming to the subject.“When we played the bigs against the smalls in practice, the smalls always won because they push it up and beat the bigs up the floor. Size is not an important factor in the open court. So we changed out of necessity and out of a desire to win games.Along the way, we created a lot of excitement.”

Another critical element in his famous “small ball"approach is that

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