On Mar. 1, 1996, Lenny Wilkens became the first coach in NBA history to reach 1,000 career victories when his Atlanta Hawks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 74-68. Wilkens is widely considered to be one of the greatest coaches of all time and was the first to achieve many coaching accolades, but was also an amazing NBA player.
Wilkens played basketball at Providence College, where he was a multiple-time All-American. At the time of his graduation, Wilkens was the second-highest scorer in school history. His jersey number was retired by Providence, the first in school history.
In the 1960 NBA Draft, Wilkens was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks as the sixth pick. Wilkens was an NBA All-Star five out of the eight seasons he played in St. Louis. In his final season with the Hawks, he finished second in MVP voting behind Wilt Chamberlain. Wilkens was then traded to the Seattle SuperSonics before the start of the 1968-69 season.
After a successful first season with the Sonics, Wilkens was named the head coach of the team. Wilkens served as Seattles’ player-coach for the next three seasons, leading them to a winning record in the 1971-72 season, although they missed the playoffs. Seattle then traded Wilkens to the Cavaliers. He would spend two seasons with the Cavaliers and one season with Portland Trail Blazers as a player-coach before retiring.
The season following his retirement, Wilkens became the full–time coach of the Trail Blazers. After taking a year off he was named the head coach of the SuperSonics. In Wilkens’ second year with the team, the SuperSonics beat the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals. As of writing, it is Seattle’s lone NBA championship. This was the only championship Wilkens was able to capture during his playing and coaching career. In 1985, Wilkens became the first to coach in 1,000 NBA games, the first of his many coaching achievements.
Wilkens spent eight years with Seattle, then a seven–year stretch with Cleveland before becoming the coach of the team that drafted him, the St. Louis Hawks. Wilkens was named Coach of the Year in his first year with the team, leading the Hawks to the best record in the Eastern Conference.
On January 6, 1995, in his 22nd NBA season as a head coach, Wilkens became the coach with the most wins in NBA history, passing legendary Boston Celtics head coach Red Auerbach. A little over a year later, he became the first coach in NBA history to reach 1,000 career victories.
Wilkens then went on to coach the Toronto Raptors and the New York Knicks, both for short stints, before officially retiring from coaching in 2005. In his career, Wilkens coached 2,046 regular season games, 164 playoff games and four NBA All-Star games, making him the only head coach in NBA history with more than 2,000 games under his belt. He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a coach.