Don Nelson is spending retirement smoking weed with Willie Nelson


It turns out Don and Willie Nelson share more than a last name. They play poker together, the former basketball coach now living in Maui in retirement. And they share a love of marijuana.

Willie, the famous musician and cannabis enthusiast, got Don Nelson into smoking weed after his retirement. Now, Don smokes every day and grows his own supply.

“You gotta treat it like a baby,” Nelson said on HBO’s “Real Sports with Brian Gumbel” segment that airs Tuesday. “You gotta water ‘em. You gotta have music for ‘em. You gotta bless ‘em.”

The formerly intense basketball coach, age 79, appears as a happy-go-lucky hippie, long hair and all. He says in the piece he divorced because of the strain from a long career as a player and coach, but now couldn’t appear more relaxed.

Nelson, who had a 14-year playing career that included five championships and a series-winning shot with the Celtics in Game 7 of the 1969 Finals, said he fell into a lifestyle of drinking and womanizing during his playing career. Later, during a coaching career that saw him set a record for games won, he got a letter from a woman he fathered with a flight attendant on a road trip.

“And I almost s–t myself,” Nelson said.

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When they finally met, “I was excited,” Nelson said, choking up. “I knew she was mine.”

His daughter, Lee, got choked up as well when talking about their relationship, which started with that letter in 1997.

“He was so much more than I expected,” Lee said. “He was the most gracious kind, giving … warm, tender [person]. Everything that you never saw on the court, that’s who he is at his core.”

Today, Lee lives next to her father in Maui. For Nelson, it’s a life that revolves around weed, and a nightly poker game that goes into the wee hours of the morning.

“We both play poker,” Willie Nelson said. “I kinda host a poker game over there, occasionally. He comes by, we usually play on up until sometimes daylight.”

There isn’t much basketball in the picture, though Nelson still finds time to watch the Warriors, a dynasty he helped start by coaching the team in Stephen Curry’s rookie season.

The piece shows Nelson and some friends watching Game 6 of the NBA Finals, but they don’t linger on the result. Instead, the final buzzer is treated as an invitation to the poker table.

It’s a bizarre life for a retiree, but it’s one that seems to fit him.