On Saturday night, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the city will honor Hall of Fame coach and player Lenny Wilkens by naming a street near the new Seattle Center Arena after him — Lenny Wilkens Way.
The announcement was made at the final event held for the Lenny Wilkens Foundation, the NBA great’s charitable organization aiding youth in Seattle for over 40 years.
Wilkens revealed earlier this year that he was retiring the foundation to spend time with family. Sonics Rising‘s Brian Robinson spoke with the coach back in June about his life and upcoming retirement.
Wilkens was a 9-time NBA All-Star, including three of the four seasons he played with the SuperSonics. He came to Seattle in the second season of the team’s life, and would eventually become a name and face inextricable from the Sonics’ legacy.
Though Wilkens made an immediate impact as a player, the team won only 30 games in his first season. Then-coach Al Bianchi was let go and replaced with Wilkens as a player-coach for the remainder of his time in a uniform in Seattle.
He would return to Seattle after his playing career as head coach in 1977, leading to a Finals appearance in 1978 and the team’s sole championship in 1979. Wilkens would be honored as a 4-time NBA All-Star coach, including two seasons with Seattle, and would earn the NBA Coach of the Year award in 1994 while with the Atlanta Hawks.
Wilkens is one of only four NBA players to have been inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player (in 1989) and as a coach (in 1998). He holds a rare distinction of being inducted a third time as a member of the coaching staff of the gold-winning 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team, known as the “Dream Team” for being the first time professional players were allowed to compete by the U.S Olympic Committee.
He would go on to coach in Cleveland, Atlanta, Toronto, and New York, but Wilkens would continue to call Seattle his home and devote much of his time to the foundation bearing his name, which sought to aid funding for heath care and education for youth in the Seattle community. The primary beneficiary has been the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, a community clinic working with Seattle Children’s Hospital.
At Saturday’s final auction and dinner event, the coach was joined by members of his ’79 championship squad, as well as the Larry O’Brien trophy. Tod Leiweke, president and CEO of the new NHL expansion Seattle club, also spoke about the honor of having Lenny Wilkens Way outside of the new arena.
The Lenny Wilkens Foundation shared a number of images and videos of the event.