The Hall of Fame ceremony is certainly a time for some reflection for the entrants.
Their speeches turn into a reflection of their successes, their stories and their failures. Reggie Miller admitted to pushing Greg Anthony and Michael Jordan on two of his more memorable 3-pointers in his career. There was a sense of finality to the whole thing.
For inductees like Reggie Miller and Don Nelson, the biggest regret might be never winning a championship. Nelson won five as a championship. But in 31 years as a head coach, Nelson only got as close as the Conference Finals a few times.
Nelson entered the Hall of Fame on Friday as the league's all-time winningest coach. He always did things his own way. He invented the point forward with Paul Pressey in Milwaukee. He refused to run a slow-down offense in Golden State in the Run-TMC era. He believed in a 7-footer who wanted to shoot threes in Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki. He is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer.
Nowitzki is one of the best players the game has seen. It was those Warriors teams that Nelson really used to jump start his coaching career. the Chris Mullin/Mitch Richmond/Tim Hardaway trio were a 1990s cult favorite. But the Warriors let Richmond go and it was one of Nelson's biggest regrets in his time with the Warriors.
Another one might have been the unfortunate end to his time with Chris Webber.
In 1993, the Magic drafted Webber with the first overall pick but sent him to the Warriors for Anfernee Hardaway. Webber played only one season in Golden State, winning the NBA's Rookie of the Year Award with 17.5 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game. Webber would become one of the best power forwards in the game for the Kings early in the 2000s. He was a superb passer in the half court and Rick Adelman used him and the rest of that Sacramento roster.
Webber's skills seemed to fit the Don Nelson mold (if there is one) perfectly. Nelson would have been able to create an offense that would have maximized Webber's skills and potentially take him to even higher heights than he reached on his own with Washington and Sacramento.
Why did the relationship with Nelson and Webber break down and force a trade to Washington (in which Golden State got back Tom Gugliotta and a couple of draft picks, including the pick that selected Vince Carter)?
Nelson’s relationship with Chris Webber in Golden State a decade and half later quickly decayed, leading to the budding superstar’s trade to the Bullets when management decided the duo couldn’t coexist. That is perhaps Nelson’s biggest personal regret, and it may have given him an unwarranted reputation as a coach who couldn’t blend with younger players.
“Relating to players has never really been difficult for me,” he said. “There’s only a couple of players who haven’t enjoyed playing for me.”
Indeed Nelson's free-wheeling and personable style made him success at every stop he was at. It was only Webber he coudl not reach for whatever reason. That reason still seems to be unclear. Nelson told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports that Webber was very difficult to coach early on in his career and he needed to mature to reach his potential.
Unfairly ornot, Nelson gained a reputation of struggling to coach young players after that incident. Nelson though never had a problem with many players. He helped reclaim Marques Johnson's career — and life — when he held an intervention for the forward while he was in Milwaukee during the NBA's drug-filled 1980s era.
Nelson clearly had a positive impact on the league and on his players. He gave them the freedom to play and he was willing to experiment and challenge the NBA's established ways of playing basketball.
It could have been greater if he could get along with Webber. But like all coaches, there are some players a coach just cannot reach. Webber seemed to fit every philosophy that Nelson could have thought of.
The Hall of Fame induction is not the time to think of what could have been. It is the time to remember what was.
For Nelson, what was is one of the greatest coaching legacies in the league's history.
Image: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images, Cat Man's Black Hole, Jose Carlos Fajarod/Contra Costa Times