To celebrate Presidents day and black history month, I will discuss one of the great coaches in NBA history, Lenny Wilkens. (More)

Black history is American history.

What is the connection between Barack Obama and Lenny Wilkens? I will get to that later.

Lenny Wilkens played guard from 1969–1972 with Seattle, and in his one season as a player with Portland, he was a player-coach. He retired from playing in 1975 and became Portland’s full-time coach for one more season. After a season off from coaching, he was hired by Seattle to replace coach Bob Hopkins during the 1977-1978 season. 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 (2004–2005).

Wilkens with the  Cleveland Cavaliers (1986–1993)

Lenny Wilkens yellingIn 1986, the Cavaliers acquired, either through trades or the draft, Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper and Larry Nance. These four players formed the core of the team that Wilkens led to eight playoff seasons in the next nine years, including three 50+ win seasons. In 1989, the Cavs faced the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. In the fourth game of the best-of-five-series, Cleveland managed to beat the Bulls in overtime 108–105 to level the series at 2–2. Home court advantage went to Cleveland.

Game Five was even until Cleveland managed to score on a drive and take a one-point lead with three seconds left. Chicago called for a time-out and inbounded to Michael Jordan, who went for a jump shot. Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo tried block it, but Jordan seemed to stay in the air until Ehlo landed. “The Shot” went in as time ran out, and Chicago won the series 3–2. The buzzer-beater is considered one of Jordan’s greatest clutch moments, and the game itself one of the greatest in NBA history. The pinnacle of the Cavs’ success came in the 1991–92 season, when they compiled a 57–25 record and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing again to the Chicago Bulls 4–2.

Record Breaking Now a Broken Record

As Dan Dean wrote, “The legacy of Lenny Wilkens runs deep in the hearts of fans and on the pages of the Cavaliers’ record book.” Dean adds

The motivation to succeed built into their character, Nance and company hit the hardwood with due diligence every day in practice. With the battle-tested and even-tempered Wilkens looking on, he turned their attitude into achievement.

“I wasn’t a screamer, but I was demanding,” said Wilkens. “They knew that if we worked hard, we didn’t have to spend all day [in practice]. But in case we did, I had no place to go. Since it was easy to communicate with them and they wanted [to win] so badly, they responded very well.”

Wilkins retired with 1,332 wins and 1,155 losses. He is second behind former Boston Celtics player and coach Don Nelson for most wins. Wilkens’ accomplishments come from his 35 years of coaching in the NBA, among the longest tenures in the league. In 1992 he was the assistant coach of the USA Olympic “Dream Team.” In 1996 he was the head coach of the USA Olympic team.

And for President’s Day:

A basketball signed by Lenny Wilkens appeared behind Barack Obama in his first YouTube “radio” address:

Another relationship with the President and the first lady:

Lenny Wilkens with Craig Robinson and spouses


The BPI Progressive agenda:

  • People matter more than profits.
  • The earth is our home, not our trash can.
  • We need good government for both #1 and #2.

A mighty fist bump to you all!