NEW YORK – Rick Carlisle was discussing draft picks and team’s being lucky Wednesday night when the Dallas Mavericks coach suddenly got into a dissertation about general manager Donnie Nelson and his impact on European players flocking to the NBA.
“Donnie Nelson has done a great job here,” Carlisle said. “He’s the guy that brought (Dirk) Nowitzki over here (from Germany) 21 years ago and recognized (Slovenia’s Luka) Doncic.”
It was Nelson who brought Nowitzki to the Mavs’ attention prior to the 1998 NBA Draft. And it was Nelson who convinced the Mavs to do whatever it took to acquire Doncic during last summer’s draft.
Before he even joined the Mavs, Nelson was at the forefront of heavily scouting international players when he worked for the Golden State Warriors. He is infamous for battling through the red tape and convincing the Warriors to draft Sarunas Marciulionis in 1987.
Marciulionis, however, couldn’t get out of his contract with Lithuania and join the Warriors until 1989.
“That was a ton of leg work, a ton of red tape, a lot of bureaucratic stuff that went on,” Carlisle said. “Marciulionis was one of the guys that kind of broke the initial barrier and Donnie Nelson was the key guy on that.
“If he hadn’t done all that work way back then, you just don’t know how many international players there would be (in the NBA) today.”
It’s estimated that 25 percent of the players in the NBA today are international players. Nelson is credited for opening that pipeline.
“I doubt very much that we would have that percentage of guys both in the NBA and playing well in the NBA,” Carlisle said. “So Donnie Nelson is a pioneer with international scouting, and also knowing how to communicate in multiple languages and everything else.
“It’s a pretty amazing story. I’m waiting for his book to come out.”