Sep 6, 2012, 2:56 PM EDT
As Don Nelson enters the Hall of Fame as the coach who has won more games than anyone in NBA history, he is getting praise as an innovator. He went small — played Nellie Ball at a fast tempo — long before other teams. Now you see the Heat, Celtics and others modeling it.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and it was such with Nellie Ball — Nelson said he didn’t want to play it, he had to.
There is a fantastic Q&A with Nelson done by Marc Stein at ESPN, Nelson opens up about how his name became synonymous with a style of play.
I suppose it means small ball, fast and exciting, point forward, players playing out of position … all those kinds of things. It’s kind of funny to me when people talk about stuff like that. I don’t necessarily think it’s accurate. You only play Nellie Ball when you don’t have a very good team, or when you have a bunch of good small players and not many good big players. When you have bad teams, you’ve got to be creative to win games you’re not supposed to win.
I was innovative when I had to be, but I wasn’t innovative when I didn’t have to be. When I had good teams and big teams, I didn’t play small ball. When I was in Milwaukee and we had Bob Lanier, we went inside. What I did really was evaluate the team and play the way that I thought we had to play to be the most competitive. If I had a big center, I wouldn’t have played so fast. I would have waited for Lanier to get down [the court] like I did in Milwaukee. Those teams were defensive-oriented and those were my best teams, too, by the way.
By the way, Stein also asked Nelson who the best players he ever coached were.
Sidney Moncrief. [Dirk] Nowitzki and [Steve] Nash. [Chris] Mullin, [Tim] Hardaway and [Mitch] Richmond. I think those would be the top guys.
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