The most influential basketball figure in the history of the late Seattle SuperSonics, Lenny Wilkens, was named recipient of the Chuck Daly Achievement Lifetime Achievement Award, the NBA Coaches Association announced Sunday in New York.
Wilkens, one of only three Hall of Famers enshrined as both player and coach, had a 35-year coaching tenure in the NBA, where he had a record of 1,332 wins and 1,155 losses. Only Don Nelson has more coaching wins.
One of most popular players in Sonics’ 41-year history, Wilkens, a nine-time All-Star, was player-coach from 1968-72. He was the franchise’s first superstar.
The New York City native and Providence College grad has made Seattle his home since arriving as a player. He was in attendance Sunday night in Dallas for Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
His greatest coaching achievement was taking the 1979 Sonics to the NBA title, the only major championship in Seattle’s modern pro sports history. He coached the Sonics from 1977-85, and moved to the front office for the 1985-86 season.
“I’m deeply grateful to my NBA peers for honoring me with the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award,” Wilkens said in a media statement released by the NBA. “Chuck was a great coach, but more important a great friend and I’m thrilled to accept this award.”
Besides the Sonics, he coached four other teams to the playoffs (Portland, Cleveland, Toronto and Atlanta). He resigned from his last coaching stint with the New York Knicks in 2005 and has been a part-time TV broadcaster for college and pro games.
He was head coach of the 1996 Olympic team that won gold in Atlanta, and an assistant on the fabled 1992 Olympics “Dream Team.” That participation put him in the Basketball Hall of Fame a third time in 2010, after his selection as a player in 1989 and coach in 1998.
For 17 years, Wilkens was president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, the only coaches union in pro sports.
“Lenny Wilkens is a true leader, an example and mentor to all of us who coach the game,” said Dallas Mavericks coach and current NBCA president Rick Carlisle. “He’s also a fine gentleman and a true NBA treasure.”
The Daly award commemorates the memory of Hall of Famer Chuck Daly, who over his long career set a standard of integrity, competitive excellence and tireless promotion of the game. The award recognizes the contributions Wilkens has made throughout his career, building a body of work that had a positive impact on the profession.
The selection committee included NBA luminaries Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, Billy Cunningham, Donnie Walsh and former Sonics coach Bernie Bickerstaff.
Wilkens was drafted sixth over-all by the St. Louis Hawks in the 1960 NBA draft. He played for the Hawks from 1960-68. After his trade to Seattle, he was dealt to Cleveland in 1972 in one of the most unpopular trades in Seattle sports history.
Wilkens was named the 1971 NBA All-Star Game MVP. He led the league in assists in the 1969-70 season, and at the time of his retirement,was the second all-time leading playmaker, behind only Oscar Robertson.
Wilkens returned to the Sonics in November, 2006 when new team owner Clay Bennett hired him for a front office position that was designed to help win favor for a new basketball arena. Seven months later, when it became apparent Bennett’s intentions were to move the team to Oklahoma City (which he accomplished after the 2007-08 season), Wilkens resigned.
Besides his coaching and playing deeds, Wilkens has been a tireless fundraiser. The Lenny Wilkens Foundation has helped raise more than $2 million for the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in Seattle.