Outside the Arena -- True Maverick

March 26, 2015

By Justin Shaw
**Courtesy of the ProRodeo Sports News, official publication of the PRCA

March 26th, 2015

Jerry Nelson is known in the rodeo world as the man behind Frontier Rodeo, the guy who calls himself Nutty Jerry, runs an amusement park and an oil business. What they may not know? This is the same Jerry Nelson who owns the American Basketball Association’s best team.

The Shreveport-Bossier Mavericks are quite a dominating force in the ABA. Yes, the ABA which uses the red, white and blue ball. The league that was bought out in a merger by the NBA in 1976, only to be rebooted in 1999. The team has won the championship the last three years it’s played, and currently is riding an 87-game winning streak.

“I do crazy (stuff) all the time,” Nelson said when asked what prompted him to buy a basketball franchise. “I’m a sports nut. When Steve Tucker came to me and said he needed someone to back the team financially, initially I wasn’t really interested. But he was persistent, and I really liked him and he seemed like a nice guy.”

Tucker, the coach of the Mavericks, came to Nelson while the team was still located in Beaumont, Texas, in 2009. The team had potential, but it needed monetary support, which is where Nelson came in.

“The first year I got involved, I was partnered with a doctor in Houston, and I only owned part of the team,” Nelson said. “After the first year, I bought him out and took the team over. We played in Beaumont for two years, but it wasn’t really a good market, so we decided to move the team to Shreveport.”

Debra Green, who had worked for Nelson for many years on the Frontier Rodeo side of things, received a phone call from her boss in 2012.

“He called me one day and told me that he wanted to move the team to Shreveport, and he wanted me to do it,” said Green, the general manager of the Mavericks. “I was in shock for a minute, but then he said, ‘Deb, bulls or basketball, it doesn’t matter, just go sell it.’”

With Nelson’s desire for the team to move and continue to succeed, and Green’s marketing and financial background, the Mavericks found a new home in 2013.

In both 2010 and 2011, the team won the ABA title while playing in Beaumont. After that, the franchise was put on hold for two years while a new city and venue could be found. During that time, Nelson was also in negotiations to buy an NBA Developmental League (NBADL) team in Minot, N.D., but that fell through.

Debra Green’s husband – seven-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo steer wrestler Gary Green – joined the organization as the operations manager. 

“It’s been really nice bringing a winning team to the community,” Gary Green said. “We have a great group of people here, and we have a long winning streak and have won three championships, and we’re hoping to win our fourth.

“What makes this team so good is that Jerry is paying them a good salary to play, so unlike some other teams where the guys need day jobs and can’t practice together as much, our team treats playing like a job, because it is.”

Nelson is revered by everyone involved with the organization, especially his players.

“We’re the best organization in the league, top to bottom,” said 39-year-old forward Alex Sanders. “We have the best owner by far, the best coach and the best guys – both on and off the court.

“It’s amazing, because at this level it’s almost impossible to find an owner like Jerry Nelson. There might be some NBA owners out there as dedicated as Jerry, but there aren’t many in sports like him.”

It isn’t just that the Mavericks haven’t been defeated in 87 games – it’s the way they’re winning that has been the most impressive part.

The team is 28-0 this season, and has averaged 139 points per game. They are the top seed in the ABA playoffs, and will host the championship games April 7-13 in Hirsch Coliseum.

Shreveport-Bossier has rarely had a close game this season, something that Debra Green wants to change.

“There are about 12 teams in the league like us; teams that might actually be able to beat us,” she said. “Our region doesn’t have many teams as good as us, so next season we’re going to travel more and try to play home-away games with Arizona and Chicago to improve our competition. We need to bring those good teams to our place to grow our fan base.”

Nelson enjoys watching his team blow the competition out, but says he certainly wants to see better teams come to his building.

“I want to play the baddest teams in the league every night, not just play the teams in our division or region,” he said. “My philosophy is that even as a champion, every now and then you need to get socked in the mouth a little bit. I want to play the teams that can play with us and be competitive. We’re going to branch out.”

Sanders, who played for Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum during his college years at Louisville, also spent a few years on the Harlem Globetrotters.

He says the key to the team being so dominant is the coach.

“I’ve never met a coach more passionate for the game than Steve Tucker,” said Sanders, who has been on all three championships teams with the organization. “He eats, sleeps and dreams basketball. His caring for us and passion for the game is what makes this all possible.”

Nelson says he has “the best coach in America,” and that Tucker has been the architect of the roster.

“Steve has a system, and each player is going to follow it, or they aren’t going to play for us,” Nelson said. “We’ve had some exceptional basketball players come through here, but they weren’t good teammates, so we sent them home.”

The Mavericks have gotten so good that teams from overseas leagues in Asia and Europe have started plucking their players.

Ed Horton, who was the ABA league and ABA Championship Finals MVP last season, left the team in December to play for a team in Slovenia. The team also lost point guards Chris Hagan and Tony Hooper to China, but still hasn’t missed a beat.

“We lost three very good players, but they had opportunities to go play overseas and make a lot of money,” Nelson said. “They were under contract, and I could’ve forced them to stay and finish the season, but I’m not that kind of person.”

It’s easy to see why everyone in the organization loves Nelson – he really does care about his players and wants what’s best for them.

It’s that kind of attitude that’s made Nelson so successful in the rodeo industry. He’s won numerous awards for his bucking stock over the years, namely with saddle bronc horse Medicine Woman and bareback horse Full Baggage.

He says there’s a simple philosophy he uses in all his business ventures.

“Owning a basketball team is no different than owning a rodeo stock company – I always want to be the best in everything I do,” Nelson said. “Winning games and championships in basketball is the same as winning horse of the year awards in rodeo. If you’re going to attempt to do something, you have to try to be the best there is.”



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