Ex-NBA coach Don Nelson lives on island, runs coffee shop (PHOTOS)


don-nelson-doggieIn his 2012 Hall of Fame induction speech, Don Nelson expressed gratitude to those who influenced a playing and coaching career that spanned five decades, as you probably expected. But it also included an atypical farewell to the sport’s establishment.

“Hopefully this will be my last tuxedo,” the NBA’s all-time winningest coach (career record is 1,335-1,063 (.557) said, prompting laughter from commissioner David Stern and others, even though he wasn’t really joking.

“I’m going to go to Maui. There is life after basketball… Come out and have a cup of coffee on Maui with me. I’m in a little town called Paia. I have a coffee shop there and some shaved ice. Come on down, we’ll enjoy it,” Nelson said.

The invitation seemed both genuine and unlikely to inspire many takers among the hoops legends assembled in Springfield, Mass.

Chris Ballard from Sports Illustrated recently went to Paia, where 73-year old Nelson now lives. There was coffee, shaved ice and the peace and quiet offered by a town that consists of a one-road strip and ocean views that extend in every direction.

A slimmed-down and tan Nelson sounds fully committed to his post-hoops life, which includes cigars, golf and poker games with Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson and Owen Wilson, but he still follows basketball with zeal.

Nelson spoke about several former NBA players, including Mark Jackson, and also Stephen Jackson. Unlike many coaches, Nelson loved Stephen Jackson.

“That guy’ll give it to you all day,” Nelson says. “He just had some mental issues. He played his ass off for me. You just never knew when he was going to blow his mind.”

According to Ballard, Nelson has managed to successfully remove himself from the NBA world and carve a new identity in the middle of nowhere. Possible links to his previous life — Facebook, Twitter, blogs, an autobiography — are generally ignored in favor of an active social life and a regular pursuit of his hobbies.

“I try to live in the now,” Nelson tells Ballard, singing the same tune as he did during during his Hall of Fame speech. “The past really doesn’t interest me that much.”

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