May 12, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Life came full circle for former University of Iowa men's basketball player turned NBA legend Don Nelson Saturday. With the sun shining as brightly outside the UI's award-winning Carver-Hawkeye Arena -- the home of the current-day Iowa Hawkeyes - as it does daily in his current home - Hawaii - Nelson strolled across the stage to accept his diploma from his alma mater.
Most fans of the Hawkeyes know the story. Nelson left the UI in early summer 1962 to pursue his dreams, dreams that included winning championships both as a player and as a coach in the National Basketball Association. He did so knowing he was 10 credit hours short of a degree in physical education. Specifically, he needed to complete his foreign language requirements and some hands-on experience in the classroom.
"It was great. I've been waiting a long time for this day, particular to share it with all my family, all my children and grandchildren."
UI graduate and soon-to-be HBA Hall of Famer Don Nelson
Nelson successfully completed a correspondence class in Spanish from the University of California. Then, the UI made a decision on the teaching piece that could only be described as a "slam dunk:" "They told me that I had been teaching my entire coaching career," Nellie said recently, "It was done. I had met the requirements for graduation."
"You're setting a great example for all of our student-athletes," Gary Barta, the UI's director of athletics, told Nelson, 40 or so members of his family and special guests including members of the UI men's baksetbasll program.
(You're telling them that) it's never too late."
"For my own kids as well," quipped Nelson, who left the UI as its all-time leading scorer.
"It was great. I've been waiting a long time for this day, particular to share it with all my family, all my children and grandchildren," an obviously delighted and proud Nelson said after the ceremony and after ceremoniously tossing his mortar board into the air - and clipping some flowers on the stage instead of clipping the nets.
And, 50 years and and an NBA record 1,335 wins and five NBA championships later, Nelson is not only a Hawk, but he's an alumnus of the University of Iowa.