Small kid from Big Apple wins it all
Wilkens was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame a staggering three times (as a player, coach and an Olympian).
BY SCOT BOLSINGER
“We were so close to training camp when they approached me and I thought, what the heck, I had nothing to lose I’ll try it. Once I saw I had success at that and I can do it, there’s a whole new career waiting there for you to be a coach.”
The move may have shortened his all-star career but it launched a coaching career that resulted in Wilkens coaching more games than any other NBA coach in history.
In 1993 he was named coach of the year. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame a staggering three times (as a player, coach and an Olympian). Despite this illustrious career, Wilkens is often overlooked in discussions of all time basketball greats. But an ESPN columnist pointed out toward the end of Wilkens coaching career, nobody has done more with less.
“The only top-50 player Wilkens has coached (except for Bill Walton through two injury-plagued half seasons at the beginning of his career) was Lenny Wilkens. Wilkens is the all-time coaching wins leader without ever coaching a Hall of Fame player in his prime or at his best. It may be the most remarkable record in sports,” the column stated.
All totaled, Wilkens has nearly a half a century of experiences that offer an unmatched depth of experience to this generation of rising basketball stars.
“Coach is a true inspiration one of my best friends and mentors ever who was my first coach in the NBA.” Athletes Playbook CEO and 17-year veteran of the NBA James Donaldson said. “He has seen and done it all. When he speaks we all listen.”
STILL MAKING AN IMPACT
Wilkens’ diverse life continues to evolve. Though he’s unlikely to ever coach again, he doesn’t rule it out. He instead has launched yet another career in business and philanthropy.
As noted in the New York Times, “Wilkens sits on the boards of the Institute of Human Virology, a bank in Washington state and his own foundation, which benefits a children’s health clinic in Seattle.” It’s all about making an impression on the generations coming behind him, just as Jackie Robinson once made on him and other kids from the hard streets of Brooklyn.
“I’m all about young people. They’re tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers, politicians. They’re our future,” Wilkens said. “Having a bond with young athletes, letting them know they can be successful–there’s nothing greater than giving back to your community. They were the people that supported you.”
And one of his constant messages to up-and-coming young athletes: Dream big.
“Nothing wrong with dreaming, but dream big dreams, but expand it. Not everybody’s going to have a great, long career. So expand it,” Wilkens says. “One thing about sports is it teaches you to make decisions. I don’t care if you are playing ping pong, you have to make decisions.”
Making the right decisions on and off the court can make all the difference.