Box & One with Hall of Fame Coach Lenny Wilkens

By Wesley Chism Jr.
Updated: April 4, 2007

SEATTLE — For the past 12 weeks I’ve been following Hall of Fame Coach Lenny Wilkens around. Some people may call that stalking, but let me explain.

Whenever I get the opportunity to be around greatness and absorb some of the knowledge that they obtain I become a sponge or in this case a leech.
Speaking with him was an honor for me and Coach Wilkens graciously answered every one of my questions with dignity and respect.
Most importantly, he didn’t start running away when he saw me coming or call security. We briefly spoke about the lost of Dennis Johnson.
“Oh, Dennis’s untimely death affected me greatly”, Wilkens said. “He and I had talked before the season and I told him that if I ever get back into coaching, I would consider bringing him along”.
“I thought that he had grown and matured tremendously as a person and you could see that he was really starting to enjoy being involved in coaching”.
Wilkens added that his most memorable moment with Johnson was when the Sonics, won the 1979 NBA Championship, even though the Denver Nuggets was looked upon as one of the favorites to win.
“The way that Dennis defensively locked up David Thompson was textbook material that could be used to teach others on how to play defense”, Wilkens added.
I also asked Coach Wilkens just how has the game changed from the days when he was coaching. “I don’t feel that the game has changed that much other then that you’ve got a lot of younger kids coming into the league and it takes them a little longer to learn and progress”, he added/DIV>
“When we were coming along everyone had four years of college, so the experience level made all the difference in the world.”
Wilkens also related one his favorite memories while coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers. “We were playing Miami at home and our guys put on one of the most amazing performances that I’ve ever seen; just about every shot that was taken went in the basket”, he said.
“Poor Miami couldn’t get a break and at this time I believe that they had Grant Long and Steve Smith. If you look up in the Heat archives for worst losses, I’m pretty sure that we handed it to them.”
He also spoke of his time as an assistant with the Dream Team in the 1986 Olympics. “I didn’t want anyone to say that we weren’t bringing the wood and had no intentions of coming home with anything other than gold”, said Wilkens
When asked about teams that tank the rest of the season with hope of getting a better pick in the draft, Wilkens said that he thought the concept was absurd.
“The league has fined in the past and this needs to continue”, he added. “Now I understand trying to get some of the young guys in for the experience but when you’ve got the entire second and third team on the court then there’s a problem.”
Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James are a few players that he wishes he had the opportunity to coach. “I love their enthusiasm and passion that they have for the game”, Wilkens added.
“Their ability to retain information and thirst of knowledge that they seek from the veterans make these young men what we call ‘throwbacks’.”
“They enjoy the game and when you enjoy what you do, whatever your profession may be, the chances of you being successful are greater.”
Hall of Fame Coach Lenny Wilkens is living proof of that statement.