Don Nelson’s original plan was to stay at Iowa for another year and graduate, according to his close friend, teammate and retired district court Judge Joel Novak.
“Our coach (at Iowa), Sharm Scheuerman, had asked us to coach the freshman team, and we were going to divide $6,000,” Novak said. “That was a lot of money at the time. Nellie was going to stay and get his degree.
“But all of a sudden he said, ‘I’m going to go pro and finish my degree later.’ I didn’t blame him. He was a hot property.”
Nelson was selected by the Chicago Zephyrs in the third round of the 1962 NBA Draft, the 17th selection overall. He played 14 seasons, the last 11 with Boston. Novak went to law school.
Nelson played on the Celtics’ 1969 NBA championship team. His jersey was retired in 1978.
How do those accomplishments compare to getting his college degree 50 years after leaving campus?
“I don’t know that you can compare them,” Nelson said. “One is sports oriented. The other is just a goal that I’ve had for a long time, I’m finally going to achieve that goal, and I’m really excited about it.”
Nelson rented a bus to bring more than 40 friends and family from Chicago to Iowa City on Friday.
“I’m getting one of those fancy buses like Willie Nelson’s got,” Nelson said. “It’s got all the amenities you would need. It should really be fun. The last time we got together as a family was for my 70th birthday. We flew everyone to Maui. We were together for 10 straight days. It was just so wonderful. This is going to be similar.”
Nelson is scheduled to pick up his cap and gown when he arrives in Iowa City on Friday. He’s not worried about whether or not it will fit.
“They know I’m 6-foot-6,” Nelson said.
Nelson is helping a friend get a new company off the ground in Detroit, Mich. It’s called Shinola — they bought the rights to the name of a brand of shoe polish that was popular in the early- to mid-20th century.
The company will produce variety of products like watches, bicycles and leather goods, and employ 150 people.
“We’re even going to have a cola,” Nelson said. “Shinola Cola.”
The factory is 70 percent completed. Nelson said President Barack Obama might attend the factory launch.
“He hasn’t totally committed, but he’s going to try and make it,” Nelson said. “That will be pretty exciting.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball