In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Lenny Wilkens of the Atlanta Hawks becomes the winningest coach in NBA history as his team defeats the Washington Bullets 112-90 at The Omni in Atlanta. It is the 939th win of Wilkens' career, passing Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach. Auerbach offered a salty congratulation, pointing out that Lenny Wilkens coached in more games and has more losses. Wilkens paid tribute to Red Auerbach, lighting a victory cigar. Lenny Wilkens would coach his final game in 2005, retiring with 1,332 wins. Wilkens currently ranks second to Don Nelson's 1,335 wins.
Lenny Wilkens was born on October 28, 1937, in Brooklyn, New York. A star at Boys High School in New York, Wilkens played his college ball at Providence College. Wilkens helped lead the Friars to an NIT Final Appearance in 1960 as he was drafted sixth overall by the St. Louis Hawks. With the Hawks, Wilkens became a perennial All-Star and finished second in the 1968 MVP ballotting to Wilt Chamberlain.
As the Hawks were moving to Atlanta, Lenny Wilkens was traded to the Seattle Supersonics in 1968. He continued to be an All-Star in Seattle and became the team's coach in 1969. The early Sonics were competitive, with Wilkens serving as player-coach as they posted a record of 47-35 for the 1971/72 season. However, after missing the playoffs, Wilkens was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. After two seasons in Cleveland, Lenny Wilkens moved on to the Portland Trail Blazers, where he again served as player-coach for one season before ending his playing career in 1975. Wilkens would be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1989.
Lenny Wilkens remained the coach of the Trail Blazers for one additional season before he was replaced by Jack Ramsey, who led the team to an NBA Championship. After a year on the sidelines, Lenny Wilkens returned to the bench in 1977, when he took over a Seattle Supersonics team that was off to a dreadful 5-17 start. The Sonics made a complete turnaround after Wilkens took over for Bob Hopkins, winning 11 of their first 12 games. They would go on to play in the NBA Finals, losing to the Washington Bullets in seven games. A year later, Wilkens led Seattle to its only championship beating the Bullets in five games.
Lenny Wilkens would remain the coach of the Supersonic through 1985. After a year off, he reappeared in Cleveland, becoming the coach of the Cavaliers until 1993, leading them to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 1992. After his tenure in Cleveland, Lenny Wilkens became the coach of the Atlanta Hawks and led them to the best record in the Eastern Conference in 1994.
The Hawks struggled in the early part of the 1994/95 season as they held a record of 12-19 as Lenny Wilkens was set to break Red Auerbach's record. Wilkens tied the mark eight days earlier, but Atlanta lost three straight games. The Hawks hosted the Washington Bullets on a Friday night, who came into the game with a record of 7-21. The Hawks would win the game 112-90, as Ken Norman scored 23 and Mookie Blaylock added 20 points.
Lenny Wilkens would coach the Hawks until 2000, before moving on to the Toronto Raptors. Along the way, he became the first person to be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame as an NBA player and an NBA coach. Wilkens was fired by the Raptors in 2003. He would take over the New York Knicks coach reigns in 2004 but retired a year later with a record of 1,332-1,155. Wilkens held on to the wins record until 2010, when Don Nelson surpassed him near the end of his career. Nelson, who never took a team to the NBA Finals, retired with a record of 1,335-1,063.