Don Nelson, the winningest coach in NBA history, had just finished a stroll on the beach in his beloved Hawai'i on Friday when a reporter informed him that his coaching contemporary Jerry Sloan had died from complications of Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia at age 78.
"Oh, he was a dear friend,'' Nelson told ESPN. "Even if he did fight me the first time we ever met.''
Nelson was a player with the Boston Celtics when the team traveled for a game against Sloan's Chicago Bulls at Chicago Stadium on Nov. 8, 1966. Nelson was bombing back on defense, trying to catch a streaking Sloan, when Sloan stopped suddenly, causing the two players to collide violently.
"He set me up,'' Nellie recalled with a laugh. "He knew I had no choice but to run over him. And then, even though he got the call, he got up and tried to hit me.''
Nelson said he and Sloan each took a couple of wild swings at each other that didn't connect. They were quickly separated by officials and teammates.
"Back then, they didn't throw you out of the game,'' Nellie said, "so we kept on playing. And Jerry was fine. That's how he was. He was a real tough guy, but he'd have his say and move on.''