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Lenny Wilkens
Lenny Wilkens
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Lenny Wilkens Biography

Basketball Hall of Fame

Lenny Wilkens Date of birth: October 28, 1937

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  Lenny Wilkens

Lenny Wilkens Biography Photo
Lenny Wilkens was born in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section, one of the toughest neighborhoods of the city. Although Wilkens's father died when Lenny was only five, his mother, a deeply religious woman, made sure that young Lenny resisted the temptations of the streets. He excelled in school while holding down a succession of after-school jobs as soon as he was old enough to work. A sympathetic priest encouraged the boy's athletic interests and helped him win a basketball scholarship to Providence College. In Wilkens's first year at Providence, the freshman squad had a record 23-0 season. Wilkens was a first-team selection to two All-America teams, and in his senior year he was named the tourney's Most Valuable Player. He graduated in 1960 with a degree in economics.

After graduation, he joined the NBA, and emerged as one of the greatest point guards in the history of professional basketball. He began his career with the St. Louis Hawks, remaining in St. Louis for seven seasons. He spent the next four seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics, where he first assumed the role of player-coach. In his first season (1969-70) leading the Sonics, he also led the league in assists. He played three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers before ending his playing career as a player-coach with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1975. In his 15 seasons on the court, he averaged 16.5 points and 6.7 assists. He ranks among the all-time leaders in assists, free throws and games played. At the time of his retirement, he was the NBA's second all-time leading playmaker. He was a nine-time NBA All-Star and was named Most Valuable Player in the 1971 All-Star Game. From 1961 to 1969, he also served as Vice President of the NBA Players Association. His record as a player earned him induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1989.

Lenny Wilkens Biography Photo
At the end of his playing days, Wilkens continued his coaching career in the NBA. He served the Seattle SuperSonics as both Head Coach and General Manager, leading them to an NBA Championship in 1979. He coached the Cleveland Cavaliers for six seasons, and was Head Coach of the Atlanta Hawks from 1993 to 2000. In three of those seasons, Wilkens led the Hawks to 50 victories, including two consecutive 50-win seasons. During his coaching career, Wilkens also served as President of the NBA Coaches Association and was active in the U.S. Olympic basketball program. Wilkens received two Olympic gold medals, as Assistant Coach of the 1992 U.S. "Dream Team," and as Head Coach of the 1996 U.S. Olympic basketball team, a second consecutive Olympic championship.

In 1994, Wilkens was named NBA Coach of the Year after leading the Hawks to a 57-25 mark, the best record in the Eastern Conference. He also served as a head coach in four NBA All-Star Games. He became the NBA's winningest coach on January 6, 1995, when he guided the Hawks to a 112-90 win over Washington for his 939th career win, surpassing Red Auerbach's 938.

Lenny Wilkens Biography Photo
Later that year, he became the first coach in NBA history to break the 1,000-victory threshold. After the 1997-98 season, he was named to the NBA's list of the 50 Greatest Players -- and Top 10 Coaches -- in the league's history. He was the only person to make both lists. Including playoff and All-Star games, he has participated in more games as player and coach than anyone else in league history. Wilkens was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame for a second time in 1998, this time as a coach. He was only the second person to receive this dual honor, after the late John Wooden of UCLA.

Wilkens spent three seasons as head coach of the Toronto Raptors before returning to his native New York in January 2004 to coach the New York Knicks. Within a month, he scored his 1,300th victory. Once again, he took his team to the playoffs, but the next season proved to be a disappointment, and at age 67, he retired from fulltime coaching. In nine of his 32 seasons as a coach, Wilkens led his teams to more than 50 victories per season. His teams won two division championships and made two appearances in the NBA Finals, including the 1979 championship.

Wilkens returned to Seattle to serve as Vice Chairman of the SuperSonics ownership group in 2006 and President of Basketball Operations in 2007. Now in his eighth decade, he can still be seen on television as an occasional basketball commentator. Lenny Wilkens and his wife Marilyn make their home in Seattle, where he spent so much of his playing and coaching career. His autobiography, Unguarded: My Forty Years Surviving in the NBA, was published in 2001.

This page last revised on Oct 25, 2010 15:37 EDT
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