Student Achievement

Don Nelson, Basketball Hall of Fame Coach, Earns Phys. Ed. Degree

By Bryan Toporek — May 14, 2012 1 min read
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Don Nelson, the winningest coach in professional basketball history, now has another accomplishment to add to his mantelpiece: college graduate.

Nelson, who turns 72 on Tuesday, returned to the University of Iowa this past weekend to receive his bachelor’s degree in physical education.

Nelson left the school for the NBA draft in 1962, despite being only eight credits and a student-teaching requirement short of earning his degree, according to the Associated Press.

Fifty years and 1,355 coaching wins later, he came back to finish what he started.

Nelson initially took six of his missing eight credits in Spanish while playing as a member of the Boston Celtics in the 1960s and 1970s, and finished the rest while coaching the Golden State Warriors in the 2000s. Still, Nelson needed to fulfill that pesky student-teaching requirement before earning his degree.

“I said, ‘Well, it’s hard for me to do because my job is a 12-month job and I can’t get away to go to some high school and do that,’” Nelson told the AP.

After retiring following the 2010-11 season, Nelson decided to go back and finish his degree, no matter what it took. By that point, Iowa decided that his 30-year stint on the NBA sidelines should suffice for his student-teaching requirement.

And thus, this past Saturday, Nelson walked across the stage as a college graduate. He credited another future Basketball Hall-of-Famer, Shaquille O’Neal, for inspiration to go back and finish his degree. (Shaq wrapped up his doctoral degree in education two weekends ago.)

It’s been a heck of a year for Nelson, who was announced earlier this year as a member of this year’s Basketball Hall of Fame class.

When asked if any more school was in his future, Nelson replied, “No, I’m done,” according to the AP.

“I do have a Ph.D. already—in basketball,” he said.

Former NBA coach Don Nelson smiles before receiving his diploma during a commencement ceremony at the University of Iowa on May 12 in Iowa City, Iowa. Nelson, a former Iowa men’s basketball player, NBA world champion and all-time winningest coach, left Iowa in 1962 just 10 credits short of getting his degree. Nelson received his bachelor’s degree in physical education Saturday after fulfilling course credits by taking correspondence courses. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.

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