The two reporters came to Don Nelson's open office door one afternoon last week and knocked tentatively on the frame. Nelson turned his head away from a visitor in his office and looked at them with tired, tired eyes. "I'm in a meeting," he said.
The reporters said they had only one question. Or maybe two. Or three. All-Star guard Latrell Sprewell had apparently missed the Golden State Warriors' closed practice earlier that day. Nelson, the Warriors' general manager and coach, had not mentioned this fact during his postpractice press conference. What was the deal? Where was Sprewell? What did Nelson think about this latest tribulation to slide across his desk? Was Sprewell going to be fined? Suspended? What?
"I don't want to talk now," Nelson said.
"Is that, 'No comment'?" one of the reporters asked.
"It's...." Nelson sighed. He asked the reporters to call him later at home. O.K? He closed the office door. It was three o'clock in the afternoon of only his third day back on the job—back from five days in the hospital and 13 days at home battling viral pneumonia—and already a new problem was being added to the mountain of old problems.
The effects of his sickness lingered and will continue to linger for a while. "Good days and bad days," the doctors told him. This was another bad one. Nelson, now 54 years old, has been blessed with one of those eternally boyish faces, but that was missing now. His complexion was gray, his features drawn in wider, fatter lines. His energy level was low. His team stunk. He needed a nap.
"What happened with Sprewell?" his visitor asked.
Nelson shook his head. He held up his hand as if trying to stop traffic at an intersection. Nothing to say about that. No.
He really did need that nap.
This was the season that was going to be . the highlight of Nelson's career. That is the thought that will not go away. After 17 years of taking teams from Milwaukee and Golden State around the NBA map, after three Coach of the Year awards but never a title, the tall pieces for success finally had been assembled. This was real championship stuff, the first time he could put as much talent on the floor as anybody.