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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — This week culminates a memorable 2012 for former Hawkeye Don Nelson. First, the Rock Island, Ill., native returned to Iowa City in mid-May after 50 years to receive his University of Iowa diploma. And now tonight, Nelson will be honored with the highest basketball honor that can be bestowed upon an individual… enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Nelson will be recognized alongside 11 other notable men and women who achieved basketball greatness. Nelson will give his enshrinement speech Friday night from Symphony Hall. Fans can watch the ceremony live beginning at 6:30 p.m. (CT) on NBA TV.
On Thursday, the class of 2012 participated in an enshrinement press conference in Springfield, Mass. Each member of the class of 2012 received their official Hall of Fame jacket yesterday, which is the first of many recognition pieces they will receive.
As Nelson walked on stage after receiving his jacket, emcee and retired legendary broadcaster Eddie Doucette said, “looking good in that blazer Nellie.” Doucette started his broadcasting career in Milwaukee and was courtside for the start of Nelson’s coaching career in 1976.
When it came time for Nelson to say a few words to the press corps, the 72-year old took the opportunity to pay tribute to Jim Fitzgerald, who was the biggest influence in his life.
“Jim Fitzgerald, who passed away a couple months ago, got me involved in my first head coaching job with the Milwaukee Bucks,” Nelson said Thursday afternoon. “I was there 11 years working for Jim. Then I went with him to Golden State and coached another eight years out there. Over half of my years coaching were for Jim. He’s one guy who probably wanted me in the Hall of Fame more than anybody that I’ve ever known.
“He and Bill King dedicated the last five years of their lives trying to get me into the Hall. Whatever they did worked, because here I am. Thank you Jim Fitzgerald and Bill King.”
Nelson is the all-time winningest coach in NBA history with over 1,300 victories and is one of only two coaches to be named NBA Coach of the Year three times (1983, 1985, 1992). He spent over 40 years of his life as a player, coach and general manager. He led teams to 18 playoff appearances where he amassed 75 playoff wins and is one of only two NBA coaches to win 250 games with three different teams.
He also coached Dream Team II to a gold medal in the 1994 World Championships. Nelson, who was named in 1996 as one the NBA’s 10 Best Coaches of all time, is the only coach with 1,000+ wins and multiple NBA championships as a player, where he won five titles with the Boston Celtics (1966, 1968, 1969, 1974 and 1976).
As a Hawkeye, Nelson led the Hawkeyes to 45 victories between 1959-62. He left Iowa after the 1962 season with 1,522 points, averaging 21.2 points per game in 72 career games, which currently ranks fourth best for scoring average in the Iowa record books.