January 5, 2013: Leonard Randolph "Lenny" Wilkens was born on October 28, 1937, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
As an All-Star basketball player and one of the winningest coaches in basketball history, Lenny Wilkens is known equally for his humble and gracious character on an off the court.
And although, compared to many basketball players of the time, Wilkens was diminutive in stature, his list of accomplishments made him a giant of the game.
Although Wilkens's father died when he 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.
Wilkens attended Boys High School -- today known as the historic Boys & Girls High School – where, despite having made it onto the Boys basketball High School team as a freshman, he decided not to play for the school in subsequent years, because he didn't think he was good enough.
Instead, he honed his skills in various Catholic Youth Organization leagues. But his CYO coach Father Thomas Mannion convinced Coach Joe Mullaney of Providence College to offer Wilkens a scholarship for the fall of 1956.
And so Wilkens then went on to play on Providence's basketball team, where he became a two-time All-American (1959 and 1960), leading his team to its first NIT appearance in 1959, and to then the NIT finals in 1960. In 1996, Providence College retired Wilkens' No. 14 jersey, making him the first alumnus to receive such an honor.
In 1960, Wilkens was drafted to the St. Louis Hawks. He played eight seasons with the Hawks and in 1969, placed second to Wilt Chamberlain in the MVP balloting.
Wilkens was then traded to the Seattle Super Sonics, where he was named head coach before the end of his first season and played as a point guard, becoming an All-Star player in three of his seasons for them.
During Wilkens's 15 years as a player in the NBA, he scored 17,772 points for an average of 16.5 ppg and handed out 7,211 assists. He ranks among the all-time leaders in assists, games played, minutes played and free throws made.
He retired from playing in 1975 and became the full-time coach of the Trail Blazers and then the SuperSonics where he coached them on to reached the 1978 NBA Finals before losing in seven games to the Washington Bullets.
Wilkens's humble demeanor and self-effacing manner also was reflected in his coaching style: a game plan based on unselfish offensive and defensive play that creates powerhouse teamwork.
Overall, he coached in Seattle for eight seasons (1977–1985), winning his (and Seattle's) only NBA Championship in 1979. He would go on to coach Cleveland (1986–1993), Atlanta (1993–2000), Toronto (2000–2003) and New York (2004–2005).
The Hall of Famer was named head coach of the New York Knicks on January 15, 2004. After the Knicks' slow start to the 2004–2005 season, Wilkens resigned from the team on January 22, 2005.
Lenny Wilkens was a class act: At the time of his retirement, not only was he a nine-time NBA All-Star, and the NBA's second all-time leading playmaker (assists), (behind only Oscar Robertson), he was also one of the the longest-serving and most beloved coaches of a major professional sports league.
Lenny Wilkens and his wife Marilyn retired to their home in Seattle, Washington. His autobiography, Unguarded: My Forty Years Surviving in the NBA, was published in 2001. Now in his eighth decade, this living legend can still be seen on television as an occasional basketball commentator.
Lenny Wilkens, we honor your stewardship, sportsmanship and superior character as a leader in athletics!
*Sources: achievement.org and www.nba.com and wikipedia.org