Milwaukee Bucks: All-Time Greatest 15 Man Roster

2 of 17

Don Nelson – Coach

Circumstance can be a funny thing, and Nelson’s influence on Milwaukee, and Bucks basketball typified that.

Don Nelson did not want to be the Bucks coach when he took on the job in 1976, he felt he simply wasn’t ready to be an NBA head coach yet, but fate and the team’s then owner Jim Fitzgerald had other ideas, and so began one of the greatest coaching careers the NBA has ever seen.

In an interview with ESPN’s Marc Stein prior to his Hall of Fame induction, Nelson recalled how it all started for him and the Bucks:

"I turned the job down three times, but Fitz made me do it. Larry [Costello] resigned suddenly, but I just wasn’t ready to be a head coach. I was 36 years old. I wanted to coach two or three years with Larry and then Jack Ramsay is the guy I really wanted to work under. I thought after six or seven years I’d know enough to be a head coach. That was my plan. But the third time Fitz said: “Just try it out. We’ll just have a handshake deal, so just try it out and we’ll move on after a year if you don’t like it.” We had a game in two days — they had to get somebody to stand in there — so that’s what we did. We tried it for a year."

After a year, there were signs of progress, and both Nelson and the team came to realize that the arrangement was a match made in heaven both on and off the court.

As Nelson told Tom Enlund in an interview for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel back in April 2012:

"I was a great fit for Milwaukee. I loved to drink beer and hang out and have fun, and I did a lot of that in Milwaukee. After practice, I used to go and have lunch and drink a few beers. Hang out in those establishments and then go back to work and watch more film."

It was in the film room in Milwaukee that Nelson did much of his best work too, coming up with ideas that would revolutionize not only how his team played the game, but how the NBA did as a whole.

If you think of today’s Bucks, much of the switching they do on defense and their exceptional understanding of how to rotate on that side of the ball, can be traced back in NBA history to Nelson’s Milwaukee teams.

Likewise, when Giannis Antetokounmpo takes the ball up the court and initiates plays, he embodies the point forward role that Nellie introduced with players like Marques Johnson and Paul Pressey.

Nelson’s Bucks made the playoffs for eight straight seasons in the 80s never dipping below 50 wins, as a two-way team who were consistently one of the league’s best. That spell included a run of three Conference Finals appearances in four years, although a title would elude Nelson and his troops.

Nellie may not have picked up a ring in Milwaukee or elsewhere as a coach, unlike Larry Costello, but I’m sure it was his continued influence on the way basketball gets played in the city, and his consistent record that saw him get voted as our greatest Bucks coach ever.

Next: Oscar Robertson