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Nellie is Winningest Coach Ever

The celebration wasn’t like the one I heard about in Toronto, which from all accounts was moving and emotional and spontaneous. Wednesday had some cool moments:

*His family and friends, some 20 people, including his wife joy and his daughter and grandkids, took pictures with each other on the court. They had several homemade signs.

*The standing ovation he got from the Timberwolves fans. As the game was winding down, departing fans walked by the bench to congratulate Nellie, even though the game was still going on. When the horn sounded, the PA guy made the announcement, and everyone stopped and applauded.

*The locker room soda shower. They had Gatorade, the G2 bottles, but those don’t fizz like soda..

STEPHEN CURRY: “It was pretty fun. We had little Sierra Mist cans. We shook them up and sprayed them on him. The smile on his face. Gave him the game ball, he gave a little speech. It’s a great moment for him.”

ANTHONY TOLLIVER: “We didn’t have any champagne, so we improvised. He hasn’t had a championship yet, so we wanted to make this as special as possible. We thought he might be mad, but he is on Cloud 9 right now.”

NELSON: “I only bought one sport coat. I’ve got a problem.”

Nellie now has more wins than any coach in NBA history. He passed his coaching idol, Lenny Wilkens, despite having coached 93 fewer games. Afterward, Nelson was all smiles and visibly emotional. And after brushing it off for so long, he finally came clean about what it means to him.

NELLIE: “It’s just such a neat feeling. This is probably why we end up coaching, because of moments like this. The one in Toronto was so special because it was right at the buzzer. This one tonight, we had a lead and hung on, so it was a little different kind of game. But yet the excitement of the team, who were part of this, this historical moment, makes me awful proud of those guys. We had guys that played when they were sick. Tonight, Ronny was ill and probably shouldn’t have played. He found  away to make a contribution for us. And then, how about these D-League guys that we picked up? They all had great nights. It didn’t always run perfectly, but they were very competitive and they got the job done tonight. I told the team that I loved them dearly, that they were very special to me, but sometimes they don’t play like I want them to.”

The closest active coach to Nelson is Jerry Sloan, who through Wednesday was 145 wins behind Nelson. Phil Jackson and Larry Brown are the only other active coaches within 300 victories of Nelson. So unless Phil or Sloan stick around another four or five seasons, or unless Pat Riley (1,210) comes out of retirementit, it appears Nelson’s record is safe for years to come. But he said he doesn’t mind if someone breaks it.

NELLIE: “There’s plenty guys close to that if they want to coach a couple years. There are guys out there winning 50 at a time, 60 at a time. They are not like me, winning 20 at a time. It’s a little harder.”

“Like I’ve been telling our guys, I have so much respect for the number now because wins are so hard to get. What, we’ve won 23 games this year? That’s what we’ve won? We fight, we scrap and normally we don’t win. So you really appreciate how hard it is to win games in the NBA. I don’t care if teams are out there winning 60 at a time. They are hard to win. I don’t care how many you win, they are hard.”

The players viewed getting Nelson the record as their crowning accomplishment in a lost season. Ronny Turiaf played Wednesday despite having the flu. He said he couldn’t breathe, he had no energy. On multiple occasions, you could hear him coughing up what sounded like a lung. Corey Maggette has been covered in nagging injuries, but refused to sit out. Curry played through a sore right shoulder though the safe thing to do would’ve been to take a game off. C.J. Watson said he wanted to play, but he could barely breathe and was in pain thanks to sore ribs.

They wanted badly to get Nellie this record. This season.

CURRY: “I don’t know when it happened, but there was a time where we saw how many games we had left and knew how many we had to win to get him the record. That was like our playoff push, basically. Something for us to hang our hat on the rest of the season.”

MAGGETTE: “To be be honest, Nellie has never said anything about the record. He just really wanted to come out there and coach and try to find a way to win some games with the people that we’ve got. When the game was over, he said let’s get in the middle, and he was excited and he told us he appreciated us doing that. That’s great to hear from him, such a prestigious coach.”

“I told guys after the game, we’ve got to thank Anthony Tolliver first for being hot in the first half. That really got us in the game. And Steph. Those guys kept us a live in the game and gave us an oppturnity to do this. We just kept fighting, kept fighting. … We found a way to try to get this win. We still have four games left. This was really important to try to get it. Because our next games are really tough games, playoff-contending teams except for the Clippers. So it was really good to get this win.”

“After the (Toronto) game, I called Monta. I told him. I talked to him. He wanted to be here. This guy is definitely a Warrior for this team. Just too bad he was really sick. I mean, he’s really sick. He was playing for two whole weeks sick. It was up to the doctors to make the decision that he had to sit down and rest his body and try to get well. I’m going to call him in a minute. I know he wanted to be here, as well as Azubuike, as well as Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright. We’ve got so many guys who are banged up and wish they could be in a situation to help this team and be a part of this.”

Inevitably, the talk of championships comes up, or Nelson’s lack thereof as a coach.He has a career .557 win percentage. He has three NBA Coach of the Year awards. He has 13 50-win seasons, 18 playoff appearances. He has been credited as an innovator, for his inverted offense and perimeter-player heavy lineups. He has five titles as a player.

But what Nelson doesn’t have is a ring as a coach, or even an NBA Finals appearance. His players said that shouldn’t matter with his resume.

Nelson’s record is 1,333-1,061 (.557), including 13 50-win seasons and 18 playoff appearances. One of only two to be named NBA Coach of the Year three times, Nelson is in his 31st season as a head coach, but detractors always mention the fact that he hasn’t won a championship.

MAGGETTE: “If I’m not mistaking, he does have five rings, don’t he? As a player. And now he’s the all-time winningest coach. You can’t knock the man’s accolades. It’s a situation where sometimes you don’t win as a coach. But damn, you’re the winningest coach in history without winning a title. That says a lot still. You’ve got to call him a Hall of Famer.”

Marcus Thompson