Wilkens Becomes King of Coaching Victories
Lenny Wilkens, who has personified grace and class and dignity during a 22-year stroll along the sidelines of professional basketball, became his sport’s biggest winner Friday night as the Atlanta Hawks handed him his 939th career coaching victory.
They did it by trouncing the Washington Bullets, 112-90, in front of a smallish crowd of 12,069 at the Omni. Wilkens had failed in three earlier attempts to oust Red Auerbach from the top of the NBA’s list for all-time regular season victories, but there was no suspense on the fourth try.
The Hawks opened a quick double-digit lead, and were so comfortably in front in the final minutes that Wilkens saluted Auerbach by lighting up a victory cigar reminiscent of the ones Auerbach once lit after the Boston Celtics had thrashed another opponent.
And when it ended, after he’d gotten a confetti shower from his players, watched the fireworks and received the game ball from Hawks General Manager Pete Babcock, it was Auerbach whom Wilkens mentioned.
“I lit the cigar as a testament to Red,” Wilkens said. “When I came into the NBA as a player, he was the guy everyone looked to as the coach. I still feel that way.”
Wilkens has been involved in a record 3,007 NBA games as a player and coach and Friday night he climbed atop the game’s most impressive coaching list. He also figures to stay there awhile. The closest active coach, Dallas’ Dick Motta, is 70 victories behind him, and at 63, is the oldest coach in the league. The coach with the best shot may be Indiana’s Larry Brown, and he is more than 400 victories behind Wilkens.
“The satisfaction is that only one person can be No. 1 one at a time,” Wilkens said. “It’s a great thing to win a championship, and I hope to do that again. But it’s great to be on top of an individual thing. I may not be there very long, but I got there.”
He thanked his players for enduring a couple of weeks of pressure and intense scrutiny and told them: “Now, we can get back to normal.”
Not quite. Wilkens will be formally honored in Atlanta before tonight’s game against the New Jersey Nets, and NBA Commissioner David Stern, among others, will be on hand to congratulate Wilkens.
“Tonight we accomplished something that all of us will remember,” said Hawks guard Craig Ehlo, who has played for Wilkens in Cleveland and Atlanta. “We’re all glad it’s over and now we can just concentrate on basketball. Our 13 wins this season are probably the hardest he has ever had. It’s wonderful for me being this close to Lenny all these years. He deserves all the credit for this.”
The Bullets fumbled away the ball eight times in the first quarter and allowed the Hawks--one of the NBA’s worst shooting teams--to shoot 54 percent. Atlanta led, 33-23, after a quarter, and the first half ended with guard Mookie Blaylock throwing in a 40-footer for a 60-46 lead. Atlanta then scored the first 13 points of the second half and that was that. The Hawks eventually stretched their lead to 29 points in the third quarter before the Bullets made a run in the fourth.
Forward Ken Norman led the Hawks with 23 points and Blaylock added 20 points and eight assists. The Bullets (7-22) got 16 points from rookie forward Juwan Howard and 15 apiece from guards Calbert Cheaney and Rex Chapman.
Chapman, the Bullets’ second-leading scorer, played after missing 12 of the past 13 games because of a sore groin muscle.
After 22 years as a coach, Lenny Wilkens is second to none. C6