UI Grad Now Winningest Coach in NBA history

April 8, 2010

IOWA CITY, Iowa — When Don Nelson left the University of Iowa after the 1962 season, his 1,522 points were the most ever scored by a Hawkeye men’s basketball player. When Nelson steps away from coaching in the National Basketball Association, his victory total will also be unmatched.

When the Golden State Warriors defeated Minnesota, 116-107, on April 7 in Minneapolis, Nelson surpassed Lenny Wilkins as the NBA’s winningest coach with 1,333. In 31 seasons with Milwaukee, Golden State, New York and Dallas, Nelson has compiled a career record of 1,333-1,061 (55.7 winning percentage). He has been named coach of the year three times and is still searching for his first trip to the NBA Finals.

“It’s such a great feeling,” Nelson told reporters after the milestone win. “This is probably why we end up coaching, for moments like this.”

Nelson remains No. 10 on the UI career scoring charts and his points per game average (21.2) is better than any former Hawkeye in the top 21 in career points. Sam Williams (No. 22 in points, 1,176) averaged 24 points per game from 1966-68 and John Johnson (No. 23 in points, 1,172) averaged 23.9 points per game from 1968-70.

Playing for head coach Sharm Scheuerman, Nelson led the Hawkeyes to a 14-10 record in 1959-60 and followed that with an 18-6 mark in 1960-61. During Nelson’s senior season (1961-62), Iowa posted its third consecutive winning season at 13-11.

Nelson was born in Muskegon, Mich., and moved to Rock Island, Ill., where he had a successful high school playing career. He was a two-time All-American at the UI and was drafted by the Chicago Zephyers with the first pick of the third round in the 1962 NBA draft. He also played for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. It was with the Celtics where Nelson was part of five NBA champion teams: 1966, ’68, ’69, ’74 and ’76. His jersey No. 19 was retired by Boston in 1978 (Nelson wore No. 15 with the Hawkeyes).

Nelson’s first head coaching job in the NBA was with the Bucks in 1976. He coached there for 11 seasons (nine winning seasons, 43 playoff victories) before joining Golden State for the 1988-89 season. The Warriors made the playoffs four times from 1989-94. Nelson coached one season with the New York Knicks, but he resigned after 59 games (and 34 wins). From 1997-2005 Nelson was on the bench in Dallas before resigning during the 2004-05 season while the Mavericks had a record of 42-22. He began his second shift with Golden State in 2006. After posting record of 42-20 in 2006-07 and 48-34 a year ago, the Warriors are now 24-54 with four games remaining.

With Nelson as head coach, the Bucks won seven straight Midwest/Central Division championships from 1979-86. The Mavericks won the Midwest Division in 2002-03. Nelson coached Milwaukee in three conference finals and Dallas in one. In 2003, Nelson and the Mavericks were ousted by eventual champion San Antonio, 4-2.

Nelson still holds the UI record with 21 free throw attempts against Indiana on Feb. 17, 1962. His career-high in points was 39 against Wisconsin in 1962. During his final two seasons, Nelson led the Hawkeyes in points, rebounds, field goal percentage and free throw percentage.