On Monday, the Golden State Warriors became only the second team in NBA history to win five consecutive conference championships. Only the Boston Celtics did that when they won eight straight NBA championships from 1959-66.

Don Nelson, 79, is the bridge between those two franchises. After two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, Nelson joined the Celtics as a 6-foot-6 forward in the 1965-66 season and played a key role in that year’s championship run. He went on to play on four other Boston NBA championship teams through 1976.

Decades later, Nelson coached the Warriors twice (1988-95 and 2006-10) and became one of the leading pioneers of small ball during the ‘Run TMC’ era. He played an influential role in the Warriors selecting Stephen Curry with the No. 7 pick in the 2009 NBA draft.

We caught up with the Basketball Hall of Famer about the two dynasties:

Q: How do you process the Warriors’ championship run?

A: This thing is incredible. I just can’t believe it. I thought they had a very small chance to win (against the Rockets), but I don’t know how they do it. Even the game in Houston, I didn’t think they’d win that game. I’ll credit the ability of the guys on the floor and the job they are doing. They also have great coaching, just incredible coaching. It sure says something about the guys playing on that team. The ones that have been there for all five are pretty special players.

Q: Where does it start?

A: It starts with the best point guard in basketball and some incredible athletes at other positions. They were the only team when they were healthy that really had the best player at every position. But now even when they lose their good players, they keep winning. How do they do that? It’s incredible. You might get lucky once and beat somebody like that. But more than that? Come on.

Q: How would you compare the Warriors’ and Celtics’ eras given how different the game is played and how free agency is so different than it was before?

A: You have to remember one thing. We didn’t have free agency when Boston had their run. But these guys have done it with free agency there. In Boston, you couldn’t leave. You had to stay with the team forever. So it’s incredible. It’s a great story. I haven’t heard a story like that in forever.

Q: What do you remember about your time in Boston?

A: Nothing but good things. I had wonderful teammates and wonderful coaching and a philosophy and history. They had everything going when I was there. They had the most unique player that had ever played at that time with Bill Russell. Nobody knew what to do with him. The No. 1 position those days was probably center. Now it’s at point guard. They had the best center at the most important position in those days. Then they had some really great players that surrounded him. It was really that simple.

Q: What was Russell like as a leader?

A: He was funny. He liked to make light of things. I remember in Game 7 when we played the Lakers (in the 1966 NBA Finals), His speech was something like, ‘Well we have this game tonight. We might as well win it.’ (laughs). He wanted to have a friendly and funny locker room and take the pressure off. He got a big laugh. Then we went out and played.

Q: How did you deal with the pressure of being expected to win the NBA title and getting everyone’s best shot?

A: Red (Auerbach) used to always open the season after the title by saying, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ He’d say ‘That’s over with and in the past. You owe me another one.’ That’s usually not a problem in the playoffs. You may have some lapses in the regular season. Or maybe if you’re Bill Russell and have gone to a Game 7 so many times, you might have a moment that you don’t seize the moment. But usually not. When you’re playing in the playoffs, you play the best you can and as hard as you can and do whatever you can do to win. It’s pretty simple.

Q: What perspective do you have on being on both ends of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry?

A: I know that first hand, for sure. My last year in LA, we went to the Finals and they beat us in five games. We had a bunch of injuries, too. I think we only had Jerry West and a bunch of donkeys like me. We got to the Finals because West averaged 44 points per game.

Q: What was key for you to be able to adapt so quickly with the Celtics team? (Nelson averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds as a sixth man off the bench.)

A: I knew John Havlicek from college (in Iowa). We graduated the same year and played every game against each other. He and I had a friendship. That made it easy. Then Larry Siegfried was there. I knew Larry the first day I got there. The guys that just welcomed me were K.C. Jones, Bill Russell and Sam Jones. They made me feel at home the first day of practice. I was nervous. But they made me feel welcome on the team. If they think you’re going to help them, they’re going to be your friend.

Q: Did anyone on the Celtics remind you of how the Warriors are as leaders?

A: It’s a totally different deal now. Leadership changes as the team goes by. But once you have a leader like Bill Russell, he’s going to be your leader for 12 years. You don’t have to look very far. It helps when your best player is your best leader.

Q: Is Steph that guy for the Warriors?

A: You’d have to tell me because I’m not there everyday. But he certainly looks like he’s one of them. But all of the core guys are big leaders in their own way. They’re all leaders and nobody is the boss. That’s really the way to do it. If you can have more than one guy as your leader and be as unselfish as those guys are, it makes it really easy.

You have to credit management, too and the general manager (Bob Myers). What a team he put together. Picking up Durant is one thing. Then they get (Demarcus) Cousins for a year. They’re going to need him this year. That’s one year they may not win if they don’t have a big center that can match up against another big. They’re going to need those guys (Durant and Cousins). Milwaukee might win that. They have a big team and they play the same style with bigger players. It’s going to be very interesting.

Q: What’s your outlook on the Warriors having the same kind of run?

A: Without Durant in the lineup and Cousins in the lineup, they’re going to have a hard team beating either team in the East. It’s not going to be easy. Let’s hope they’ll be back. They’ll need all the weapons they got.


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