Nellie gets college diploma for his birthday

We hear all the time about athletes who left school early returning to fulfill their requirements and earn their degree. Most recently, Warriors guard Stephen Curry headed back to Davidson last summer to finish his degree in sociology.

But what about coaches? That’s pretty unusual.

Nearly 50 years after leaving the Iowa Hawkeyes to turn pro, former Warriors head man Don Nelson returned on Saturday to pick up his diploma. Nelson turns 72 on Tuesday.

So why did it take Nellie so long to take care of such a small task? Well, he tried to do it sooner, but kept running into problems.

According to the Associated Press, Nelson thought he had fulfilled his requirement early in his professional career, but only acquired six of the eight credits he needed. Then, while coaching the Warriors, he earned the remaining credits.

But when he called school officials, they said he wasn’t done after all. He needed a student-teaching job before they’d give him his walking papers.

In the middle of his coaching career, Nellie couldn’t exactly stop coaching to find a student-teaching gig. The NBA season runs from November through mid-April, but between off-season scouting free agents and training camp, it’s a year-round job:

“I said, ‘Well, it’s hard for me to do because my job is a 12-month job and I can’t get away to go to some high school and do that.'”

But after Nelson hung up the clipboard after the 2010-11 season, he restarted the process. Thankfully for the 72-year-old, someone at Iowa — perhaps a hoops enthusiast — had an epiphany. They interpreted Nelson’s 31 years of coaching and NBA-record 1,335 wins as a student-teaching gig and told him he could collect his diploma.

Nellie told the AP that there is a moral to his story:

“I’ve been waiting for this moment a long, long time. I wish it would have happened 50 years ago. But it didn’t and I think that the moral to this story is it’s never too late as long as you keep working and keep having dreams. They can come true.”