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Nelson talks says he played Nellie Ball because he had to

Sep 6, 2012, 2:56 PM EDT

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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.

  1. cosanostra71 - Sep 6, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    no love for Patrick Ewing?

  2. papichulo55 - Sep 6, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    Thanks for clarifying that Small Ball nonsense. BBall was, is, and will always be a Big Mans game. The League is selling this Small Ball era because there are, currently,no dominant bigs in the game. A young Shaq or Dream could average 40 in todays game. High percentage shots will always be in-style. Always.

  3. starvingardens - Sep 6, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    Come Nelly… The reason WHY you had to play small ball is because you never wanted to develop a big man, or trade for one.

  4. itsthemelman82 - Sep 6, 2012 at 11:30 PM

    I always enjoyed watching Don Nelson coached teams. Happy to see he’s headed to the HOF

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