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Iowa Time Machine: Hawkeye Hooper Don Nelson - May 15, 1940

Iowa Time Machine ⏰: On May 15, 1940, legendary Iowa Hawkeye basketball player and long-time NBA coach Don Nelson was born. A five-time NBA champion as a player, Nelson went on to set the record for regular season coaching wins in the NBA.

Born in Michigan, Nelson’s family eventually moved to Rock Island across the Mississippi River from Iowa’s eastern border. A standout hooper at Rock Island High, “Nellie” led the Rockets to a 47-7 record during his final two seasons of high school. Recruited to Iowa by Rock Island High alum Sharm Scheuerman, Nelson headed west to Iowa City.

The 6’6” Nelson immediately contributed to the Hawks as a sophomore by averaging 15.8 points and 10 rebounds per game after sitting out his freshman year as required by the NCAA during the time period. The following season, Nelson upped his game to average 23.8 points and 10.6 rebounds while helping lead Iowa to a runner-up Big 10 finish. Nelson again averaged a double-double with 23.8 points and 11.9 rebounds during his senior year. Picked 17th in the 1962 NBA Draft by the Chicago Zephyrs, Nelson left Iowa as one of the greatest Hawkeyes to ever wear the black and gold.

Nelson went on to play for the Zephyrs, Lakers, Celtics, while averaging 10.3 points and 4.9 rebounds in 1053 career games. A 5-time NBA champion (1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976), Nelson retired from playing and went on to become one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. Developing a unique brand of basketball often called ‘Nellie Ball,’ Nelson pioneered the concept of the ‘point-forward’ popular in the game today. He coached the Milwaukee Bucks, the New York Knicks, the Dallas Mavericks, and the Golden State Warriors. Nelson stands second all-time in regular season wins of any coach in NBA history, with 1,335 (he held the record for most wins for almost 12 years before he was surpassed by Gregg Popovich in 2022). #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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