2 minute read

Lenny Wilkens

Honored As One Of Nba's Top Players And Coaches

When the NBA celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996, Wilkens was the only man to be named both one of the fifty greatest players and one of the top ten coaches in league history. He's also one of only two men (John Wooden is the other) to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both player and coach. Wilkens was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a player on May 9, 1989, and as a coach on October 2, 1998.

In 1996, Wilkens coached the USA Basketball Dream Team to a gold medal victory of 95-69 over Yugoslavia in the Olympic Summer Games held in Atlanta. Four years earlier, Wilkens had served as an assistant coach on the 1992 original USA Basketball Dream Team that captured gold in Barcelona, Spain. Shortly after his first Olympics coaching experience, he had a brush with life-threatening illness. During a pickup basketball game in Barcelona, Wilkens tore an Achilles tendon. As he recovered from the injury, blood clots from his leg traveled into his lungs, forcing hospitalization and jeopardizing his life. He later told the Akron Beacon Journal: "I think that was the first time I realized my own mortality. I was always healthy. Now I see how fragile it is. I felt vulnerable."

Chronology

1937 Born October 28 in Brooklyn, New York
1960 Receives bachelor's degree in economics from Providence College
1960 Joins St. Louis Hawks as player
1962 Marries Marilyn J. Reed on July 28
1969 Joins Seattle Super Sonics as player-coach
1972 Joins Portland Trail Blazers as player-coach
1977 Returns to Supersonics as head coach
1986 Joins Cleveland Cavaliers as head coach
1993 Joins Atlanta Hawks as head coach
1994 Named NBA Coach of the Year by IBM
1996 Coaches gold-medal winning U.S. team in Atlanta Olympics
2000 Joins Toronto Raptors as head coach

Related Biography: NBA Scout Marty Blake

Marty Blake, director of scouting for the National Basketball Association (NBA), is the man most often credited with discovering Lenny Wilkens. Blake, general manager of the NBA's Hawks in both St. Louis and Atlanta for seventeen years, first saw Wilkens perform at the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in 1960. He was impressed by the point guard from Brooklyn, although he admitted a few years ago he had no idea how far Wilkens would go in professional basketball. Blake was interviewed by Jeffrey Hawk of the Atlanta Constitution shortly after Wilkens was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach in October 1998 (he'd previously been inducted as a player in 1989). Blake told the Constitution: "But you couldn't know all this was going to happen. You knew he was going to be a great player. You knew he was a coach on the floor at Providence. I mean, he ran the show. There was no question who was in charge. You had a sense watching him that Lenny could someday become a coach, but all this? That was impossible to forecast."

Involved in basketball for more than half a century, Blake helped found the Continental Basketball Association in 1946. During his seventeen years with the Hawks, the team won eight division titles and in 1957-1958 beat the Boston Celtics to cinch the NBA championship. Earlier Blake had served as president of the Pittsburgh Condors of the American Basketball Association (ABA), which was later merged into the NBA.

Additional topics

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: