Donnie Nelson Isn’t Slowing Down at All

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, September 23rd, 2011

NBA lockout isn’t cramping his style


By Mike Fisher



Donnie Nelson is behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger HEMI with 100,000 miles on it. He reminds me to buckle up, unnecessary even before the GM of the world champion Dallas Mavericks hoots, “It’s a suicide machine!”


So how did Donnie go from riding in a victory parade to riding in a vehicle more befitting Bo and Luke Duke? As always with Donnie, there is a story. Read on…


The whirlwind summer of the Dallas Mavericks has been under-documented, I might argue, because the labor dispute has created a fog of the gorgeous picture and a muzzle on the lovely sound. But there has been beauty-pageant judging and moneyed-sponsorship touring and first-pitch throwing and camera-mug appearing everywhere from ESPN to CNN.


And then there is the unassuming Nelson, certainly a co-architect of 11X50-to-title but perpetually happy one step beyond the klieg light.


I assume,’’ I tell him, “you get that from your mother.’’

Donnie’s two best-known bosses are, of course, his father, the legendary basketball man Don Nelson, and Mark Cuban, the high-profile owner of the Mavs. Donnie is a similarly larger-than-life personality. (His greatest accomplishment, I think, topping a lengthy list: Avoiding becoming the human tug-of-war rope between the two powerhouses.) But he makes his impact in ways that don’t require cameras. He does it with handshakes, hugs and hustle.


I used to tell the guys down in San Antonio, with all their championships, ‘All I want is one!’’’ Donnie says as he carefully puts the car in gear. “I guess I lied. I want more.’’


Still plenty to occupy his time

Nelson is prohibited from making contact with any Mavs players, of course, the penny-wise offshoot of the NBA labor dispute. But he’s quite likely the most connected man in basketball – and maybe beyond that. Many seek his counsel. His business interests are extensive. He hasn’t an enemy. So he’s got plenty of people to talk to and plenty to do.


I’ve got to occupy myself somehow,’’ he jokes when I mention a 24-hour period last month during which he attended a RoughRiders baseball game, took in an event at the Mesquite Rodeo, hitched a ride on country singer Danny Griego’s 18-wheeler tour bus, met with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, sipped a beer at Gilley’s, orchestrated plans for a tryout camp for the D-League Legends team he owns, oversaw a Firemen-vs.-Policemen charity basketball game, packed for a scouting trip to Europe and heard from Bruce Pearl, who decided to decline Donnie’s invitation to him to coach the Texas Legends.


Oh, and Donnie Nelson is a father and he’s mixing in time to do that, too. In fact, he just made an executive decision regarding his son, D.J., who is technically the owner of this shiny black race car … even though the 17-year-old has yet to actually drive the beast.


A mean machine

I made a deal with D.J.,’’ Donnie says as he guides the auto down a suburban street. “I told him he could buy a car, and we agreed to a budget. We agreed it had to be used, it had to be American-made, stuff like that. So he really goes to work on it. He gets on Craigslist, finds the car, shows me a photo – but just a head-on photo, and it was kind of blurry.


So I arrange for a one-way trip to the Ozarks to go get the car. Now, I’m not really a car guy. It doesn’t occur to me what we have here until I’m actually on my way back to Dallas. And man, this car doesn’t know how to not go 80. You think you’re going 20 miles-per-hour and you’re going 80.


And you think I’m going to put a 16-, 17-year-old boy behind the wheel of this monster?’’


So, if D.J.’s year in high school goes well, he’ll get his car. For now, the kid is driving Dad’s pickup truck. And Donnie is in control of “the suicide machine.’’


And in a basketball summer that seems like it’s plodding along at 20 mph, somehow Donnie Nelson keeps speeding along at 80 mph.


Ten at 10

We don’t have real pro basketball. We do, however, have my Top 10 Fictional Basketball Players of All Time

10 Air Bud – He didn’t have opposable thumbs. But hey, that never stopped Erick Dampier.

9 Chip Hilton – The boy your grandfather wishes your dad could’ve been.

8 Jesus Shuttlesworth – Ray Allen can act a little and Denzel Washington can ball a little.

7 Saleh – “The Air Up There,’’ in which Kevin Bacon thinks Saleh is the next Dikembe Mutombo when in fact he’s the next Moussa Seck.

6 Teen Wolf – Michael J. Fox plays big. And hairy.

5 Calvin Cambridge – “Like Mike?’’ Like, call Child Protective Services!

4 Billy Hoyle – White men can jump. And Rosie Perez is smart enough to play on “Jeopardy.’’

3 Jimmy Chitwood – A dream world in which white kids win state titles and Barbara Hershey can’t get a date.

2 Will Smith – If Bel Air is so wealthy, why can they only afford a basketball court that’s 40 feet long?

1 Lola Bunny – She made “Space Jam.’’ Basically Nancy Lieberman with fluffier ears.


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