Born In Brooklyn
He was born Leonard Randolph Wilkens Jr. in Brooklyn, New York, on October 28, 1937, son of an African American father and white mother. His father, Leonard Sr., worked as a chauffeur, while his mother, Henrietta (Cross) Wilkens, worked in a candy factory. His father died suddenly when Wilkens was still a preschooler, and he suddenly found himself "the man of the house" at the tender age of five. Making life even more difficult for the young Wilkens were the taunts of schoolmates about his interracial origins. Ignoring the taunts as best he could, Wilkens worked hard in school and stayed out of trouble. He took his first after-school job—delivering groceries—at the age of seven. Of the pressures he felt as a child, he later told Sports Illustrated: "I couldn't have sympathy. I couldn't trust. I couldn't get involved with people because then I'd have to feel. What scared me so much was seeing no one going out of their way to help my mother and my family after my father died. Seeing people look down their noses at us. You realize that no one really cares. So how do you get through? You start building the wall. You never let anyone know what's inside. It sounds awful now to say I'd never cry."
In his spare time, Wilkens began playing basketball with local youth leagues and found he had a real talent for the game. He was encouraged by a priest named Tom Mannion to play basketball for Boys High School as a senior and made so positive an impression that he was offered an athletic scholarship to Providence College, a catholic school in Rhode Island. In his senior year at Providence, the school's basketball team made it
into the finals of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), where Wilkens was named Most Valuable Player of the NIT. Although he received offers to play professionally for a number of basketball leagues, he chose to enter the NBA draft in 1960. There he was picked sixth in the first round by the St. Louis Hawks, whose general manager, Marty Blake, had first spotted Wilkens at the NIT finals. Wilkens wasted no time in firmly establishing himself as an invaluable team player. In the ten years between 1963 and 1973, he was voted to nine All-Star teams. In 1968 he finished second to Wilt Chamberlain in voting for the NBA's MVP Award.
Famous Sports StarsBasketballLenny Wilkens Biography - Born In Brooklyn, Player-coach, Signs On As Head Coach Of Cavaliers, Honored As One Of Nba's Top Players And Coaches - CONTACT INFORMATION, SELECTED WRITINGS BY WILKENS: