Leonard Randolph Wilkens (born October 28, 1937) is an American retired basketball player and coach in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He has been inducted three times into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, first in 1989 as a player, as a coach in 1998, and in 2010 as part of the 1992 United States Olympic "Dream Team", for which he was an assistant coach. He is also a 2006 inductee into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
Wilkens was a combined 13-time NBA All-Star as a player (nine times) and as a head coach (four times), was the 1993 NBA Coach of the Year, won the 1979 NBA Championship as the head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics, and an Olympic gold medal as the head coach of the 1996 U.S. men's basketball team.
During the 1994–95 season, Wilkens set the record for most coaching wins in NBA history, a record he held when he retired with 1,332 victories. Wilkens is now second on the list behind Don Nelson, who broke it in 2010. He won the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award for the 2010–11 NBA season. Wilkens is also the most prolific coach in NBA history, at 2,487 regular season games, 89 more games than Nelson, and over 400 more than any other coach, and has more losses than any other coach in NBA history, at 1,155.
Wilkens grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. His father was African American and his mother was Irish American. Wilkens was raised in the Roman Catholic faith.
At Boys High School, Wilkens was a basketball teammate of longtime Major League Baseball star Tommy Davis.
Wilkens was a two-time All-American (1959 and 1960) at Providence College. He led the team to their first NIT appearance in 1959, and to the NIT finals in 1960. When he graduated, Wilkens was, with 1,193 points, the second-ranked scorer in Friar history (he has since dropped to twentieth as of 2005). In 1996, Wilkens' No. 14 jersey was retired by the college, the first alumnus to receive such an honor. In honor of his collegiate accomplishments, Wilkens was one of the inaugural inductees into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Wilkens was drafted sixth overall by the St. Louis Hawks in the 1960 NBA draft. He began his career with eight seasons with the St. Louis Hawks, who lost the finals to the Boston Celtics in his rookie season. The Hawks made the playoffs consistently with Wilkens but never again reached the finals. Wilkens placed second to Wilt Chamberlain in the 1967–1968 MVP balloting, his last with the Hawks.
Wilkens was traded to the Seattle SuperSonics for Walt Hazzard and spent four seasons there. He averaged 22.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game in his first season for the SuperSonics, and was an All-Star in three of his seasons for them. He was named head coach in his second season with the team. Although the SuperSonics did not reach the playoffs while Wilkens simultaneously coached and started at point guard, their record improved each season and they won 47 games during the 1971–72 NBA season. Wilkens was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers before the start of the next season in a highly unpopular trade, and the SuperSonics fell to 26-56 without his leadership on the court.
Wilkens ended his career spending two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers (1972–1974) and one with the Portland Trail Blazers (1974–1975).
Wilkens scored 17,772 points during the regular season, was a nine-time NBA All-Star, and was named the 1971 NBA All-Star Game MVP in 1971. With Seattle, he led the league in assists in the 1969–70 season, and at the time of his retirement was the NBA's second all-time leader in that category, behind only Oscar Robertson.
From 1969 to 1972 with Seattle, and in his one season as a player with Portland, he was a player-coach. He retired from playing in 1975 and was the full-time coach of the Trail Blazers for one more season. After a season off from coaching, he again became coach of the SuperSonics when he replaced Bob Hopkins who was fired 22 games into the 1977–78 season after a dismal 5-17 start. The SuperSonics won 11 of their first 12 games under Wilkens and made the playoffs in back-to-back years, losing in seven games to the Washington Bullets in the 1978 NBA Finals before returning to the 1979 NBA Finals and defeating the Washington Bullets in five games for their first and only NBA title.
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 (2004–05).
The Hall of Famer was named head coach of the New York Knicks on January 15, 2004. After the Knicks' slow start to the 2004–05 season, Wilkens resigned from the team on January 22, 2005.
On November 29, 2006 he was hired as vice chairman of the Seattle SuperSonics' ownership group, and was later named the Sonics' President of Basketball Operations on April 27, 2007. On July 6, 2007 Wilkens resigned from the Sonics organization. Wilkens currently is seen on Northwest FSN Studio as a College Hoops analyst and occasionally appears on College Hoops Northwest at game nights. He is the founder of the Lenny Wilkens Foundation for Children."I learned my basketball on the playgrounds of Brooklyn. Today, being a playground player is an insult. It means all you want to do is go one-on-one, it means your fundamentals stink and you don't understand the game. But the playgrounds I knew were tremendous training grounds."
"Show people how to have success and then you can push their expectations up."