Don Nelson, 71, Finally Earns His College Degree

by May 10, 2012

Don Nelson, the legendary former NBA coach and player, will graduate from college this weekend at long last. Per USA Today: “He did it for 14 seasons as an NBA player. He did it for 31 more seasons as an NBA head coach, compiling more victories than anyone else. And he’ll do it Saturday morning, when he dons cap and gown and receives his degree in physical education from the University of Iowa in commencement ceremonies at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. ‘The reason I coached all these years was that I enjoyed so much being around young, talented people,’ said Nelson, who turns 72 next Tuesday. ‘This will be like coaching my teams, really. I love talented, young kids.’ Nelson left Iowa as an All-American in 1962, with a 21.2-point career scoring average but a few hours shy of a degree. He fulfilled his foreign language requirements through correspondence, but his NBA lifestyle never made it possible for him to return to Iowa City. Retired from coaching in 2010, he’s finally making it happen. ‘It means a lot to me personally,’ said Nelson, who will be joined by more than 40 family members and friends in Iowa City to celebrate his graduation. ‘When I went to college, I was the first male in my family with a chance to go. One thing that was important to me was to get a degree. I was in the pros for so long that I had to postpone it until now. But it was a goal of mine, and I’ve achieved it.’ […] Nelson said he was motivated to get his degree, 50 years later, by Shaquille O’Neal. Nelson coached O’Neal and Dream Team II at the FIBA World Championships in Toronto, Ontario, in 1994. ‘He went back and got his degree (from LSU), and now he’s going back to get a doctorate,’ Nelson said. ‘He’s been an inspiration to me. I don’t believe he knows that. I never told him.'”