Most of today’s professional athletes reach the ends of their playing careers by their late 30s, if not well before. That leaves them with the difficult question of what to do next with their lives. Over the years, we have seen plenty of unusual career moves — from George Foreman‘s foray in the world of grills, to Curt Schilling’s ill-founded video game company.
Yet one of the most surprising career swerves comes courtesy of Don Nelson. Nelson enjoyed a lengthy NBA tenure as both a player and a coach, racking up numerous accolades in both capacities. Here we take a look back at Nelson’s time in the league, while also investigating his most surprising post-retirement endeavor.
Don Nelson’s playing career
After an elite college career at the University of Iowa, the Chicago Zephyrs selected Nelson with the 17th pick of the 1962 NBA Draft. The 6’6″ forward averaged 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds as a rookie.
The following year, the Zephyrs moved to Washington and became the Bullets. Meanwhile, Nelson was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nelson spent two years with the Lakers, playing limited minutes, before signing with the Boston Celtics as a free agent. Boston would remain his home for the next 11 seasons. In his first season with the Celtics, Nelson averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds, playing a vital sixth man role in helping the team secure a title victory over the Lakers.
Over the following years, Nelson would win four more championships with the Celtics. He played alongside such NBA legends as Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, and K.C. Jones. Nelson’s individual numbers peaked in the 1969-1970 season, when he racked up 15.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The Celtics retired Nelson’s number 19 jersey in 1978, two years after he retired.
Published: May 18, 2020
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