BOSTON, MA – 1974: Lenny Wilkens #19
In 1972, Wilkens was named player-coach of the Sonics, becoming the first African-American head coach in NBA history. He continued to play for the team while coaching, and he led the Sonics to their first playoff appearance in 1975. In 1977, Wilkens retired as a player and focused solely on coaching.
Under Wilkens’ leadership, the Sonics became one of the best teams in the NBA. They won the Western Conference championship in 1978, but lost to the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals. The following year, the Sonics returned to the NBA Finals and defeated the Bullets in five games to win their first and only NBA championship.
Wilkens’ success with the Sonics earned him widespread recognition as one of the best coaches in the NBA. He was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1994, and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.
In addition to his coaching success, Wilkens is also remembered for his contributions to the game as a player. He was a nine-time NBA All-Star and was named to the All-NBA Second Team four times. He also won an Olympic gold medal as a player on the 1960 U.S. men’s basketball team.
Off the court, Wilkens has been a dedicated philanthropist and community leader. He has been involved in a number of charitable initiatives, including the Lenny Wilkens Foundation, which supports organizations that help children in need.
In conclusion, Lenny Wilkens’ time in Seattle was a defining period in his career as both a player and a coach. He helped turn the Sonics into a championship-caliber team and led them to their only NBA title in 1979. His success with the Sonics cemented his legacy as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, and his contributions to the game as both a player and coach have left a lasting impact on the sport.