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Donn Charles Nelson (born September 10, 1962, in Iowa City, Iowa) is an American basketball executive who is the general manager and president of basketball operations for the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He is the son of Don Nelson, the former head coach of the Golden State Warriors and the Mavericks. In a 2007 Sports Illustrated article ranking the NBA's personnel bosses from 1 to 30, Nelson was ranked No. 2. In a 2009 Yahoo! Sports article Nelson was ranked the third-best general manager of the decade after producing nine 50-plus-win seasons in a row and the first Finals appearance in franchise history in 2006. Nelson assembled the Mavericks team that would later win the 2011 NBA Championship.
Donnie is the second of four children born to Don and Sharon Nelson, and the only son. He was born in Iowa City during his father's final year at the University of Iowa, and was raised in Natick, Massachusetts as Don played for the Boston Celtics. Growing up to proportions similar to his father, Nelson also took up basketball, playing in high school for Worcester Academy. However, a broken ankle reduced his playing efficacy. Don's job coaching the Milwaukee Bucks had made the family move to Brookfield, Wisconsin, and the same day Donnie graduated and was driven back home by Sharon in 1982, Don decided to leave his wife. Wishing to remain closer to his mother, Donnie gave up on playing in Iowa or Indiana, and instead went to the Division III Wheaton College in Illinois, where his older sister Julie studied. Despite being an All-America player with Wheaton, he asked his father not to make any calls for a professional tryout. The summer after his freshman year, he joined the Athletes in Action team, traveling first to South America and then to Europe. The experience made Nelson interested in bringing international players to the NBA, a trademark of his subsequent career. He graduated in 1986.
Nelson's first works with the NBA were in his father's teams, first as a regional scout of the Milwaukee Bucks between 1984 and 1986, and then as the top assistant to Don in the Golden State Warriors from 1986 to 1994. During this time, Nelson also worked as a part-time scout starting in 1987. While playing in Lithuania SSR capital Vilnius, Nelson met Šarūnas Marčiulionis, with whom he struck a friendship despite the language barrier. Once Donnie told his father about Marčiulionis and his skills, the Warriors would draft him in the 6th round of the 1987 NBA draft. After the 1988 Summer Olympics, Marciulionis invited Nelson to Lithuania, where for three months he lived in the player's apartment in Vilnius, staging a series of basketball clinics around the increasingly restive republic. Eventually Nelson would fly to Moscow to sign Marčiulionis in 1989, leading him to become the first Soviet Union player in the NBA.
As Don Nelson resigned from Golden State in 1995, Donnie also left the organization. From 1995 to 1998, Nelson was an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns. He was a major influence in getting the team to pick Steve Nash, who he met while Nash played in high school, and would later befriend as Nash became the star of Santa Clara University.
In 1998, Nelson rejoined his father, who was coach and general manager of the Dallas Mavericks, as assistant general manager. In the 1998 NBA draft, Nelson arranged for the Mavericks to draft little-known German Dirk Nowitzki and bring in Nash, who saw limited minutes in Phoenix, through a three-team trade. Both players would win the Most Valuable Player Award. Like with Marciulionis and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, Nelson opened the league to a traditionally closed market when he made the Mavericks draft the first Chinese player to ever play in the NBA, Wang Zhizhi, in 1999.
Donnie Nelson's efforts to rebuild the Mavericks occurred following the team's decade-long playoff NBA Championship drought. During his tenure, the Mavericks won 66% of their games, including five 50-win seasons, two 60-wins seasons, and a franchise record 67-wins season in 2007. The 2007 season was tied for the sixth-best regular season in NBA history. The Mavericks are also one of just six franchises to win 60 games or more three times in a five-year span. Stemming from the efforts made during Nelson's tenure, the Mavericks reached the playoffs for ten consecutive seasons, reached the Western Conference Finals three times, and advanced to the NBA Finals twice, winning their first NBA Championship in 2011.
Nelson acquired the core group of players on the 2011 championship Mavs roster through trades and success in the NBA Draft. Tyson Chandler, 2008–2009 6th Man of the Year Jason Terry, future Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, four-time All-Star Shawn Marion, two-time All-Star Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood were acquired through trades. Nelson was also responsible for adding 2007 MVP, 2011 NBA Finals MVP, and 10-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki along with Rodrigue Beaubois through the NBA Draft. On previous teams Nelson played a role in trading for players such as two-time Most Valuable Player Steve Nash and All-Star/6th Man of the Year Antawn Jamison, as well as acquiring future All-Stars Devin Harris and Josh Howard via the draft.
Nelson also served as assistant coach in 2000, when Mark Cuban purchased the team, and was an interim coach filling in for his father on multiple occasions between 2000 and 2002.
As the Mavericks established an NBA G League (D-League) team in Frisco, Texas, a suburb north of Dallas, Nelson was named co-owner. The Texas Legends began play in the 2010–11 season, and became the first male professional team coached by a woman, Nancy Lieberman.
Since 1990, Nelson has served as an assistant coach for the Lithuania national basketball team. In 1991, as Lithuania had just been re-established as an independent state, the Lithuanian Basketball Federation could not rely on public funding. Knowing of Marčiulionis' struggles, Nelson helped get sponsors for the Lithuanian team's 1992 Summer Olympics campaign, which included rock band Grateful Dead. In that period, the Lithuanians won three bronze medals in four Olympics, a silver medal in the 1995 EuroBasket and a gold medal in Eurobasket 2003. In appreciation for his contributions, Nelson was awarded the Medal of the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas in 1995 and the Commander's Grand Crosses of the Order for Merits to Lithuania by the President of Lithuania in 2004. He also serves as Honorary Ambassador for the League of Industries.
Nelson also serves as the Chief Advisor for the China national basketball team. During his two years of service, they equaled their all-time best Olympic finish (8th) in Athens and won the Gold Medal at the 2005 Asian Championships.
Personal life and activism
Nelson is married to Lotta and has two children.
Nelson has been involved with several charitable efforts. He worked with the NBA's African Top 100 campaign, an outreach program providing educational opportunities to challenged African athletes. He is the founder of the "Global Games" in Dallas, which gives area high school kids a chance to test themselves against the top Junior National teams in the world. He also helped create the Assist Youth Foundation, who offers opportunities for underprivileged kids in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and across the globe.
- Ranking the league's personnel bosses from 1-30, published June 26, 2007
- Yahoo Sports NBA
- "Owners' Bios'". Texas Legends. Retrieved October 22, 2012.
- The Nelsons: Love and basketball
- A Soviet Hoopster In the Promised Land
- Operation Yao Ming: The Chinese Sports Empire, American Big Business, and the Making of an NBA Super star
- 'I Have To Open People's Eyes'
- New World Order
- Report: Warriors' Nelson To Resign Today .
- Dave Feschuk, Michael Grange (2013). Steve Nash: The Unlikely Ascent of a Superstar. Random House. ISBN 9780307359490.
- NBA Sunday Insider: Where the international look began
- Dallas Mavericks: Former Texas Legends coach Nancy Lieberman credits Donnie Nelson with her success in NBA | SportsDay
- Jenkins: Marciulionis’ Impact Goes Beyond Basketball
- Donnie Nelson honored in Lithuania.