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The St. Louis Hawks drafted Len Wilkens with the 6th overall pick of the 1960 NBA draft. A left-handed point guard that earned All-American honors his last two years at Providence College, the Hawks were counting on Wilkens to be their floor general and set up man for Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan.
Wilkens had a promising rookie campaign, averaging 11.7 ppg while helping lead the team to the Western Division title and a trip to the NBA finals. His sophomore season was interrupted as Lenny was called to serve in the U.S. military where he earned the rank of second lieutenant in the Army. Without Wilkens at point guard, the Hawks stumbled to a 29-51 record in 1961-62, missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
Upon his return from military duty, Lenny picked up where he left off and earned his first of nine trips to the All-Star game in 1962-63. In 1965-66, after the retirement of Hall of Famer Bob Pettit, Wilkens stepped up his offensive production to 18 ppg and 6.2 assists per game. Behind Wilkens and the strong inside presence of Zelmo Beaty, the Hawks didn't miss a step, advancing to the playoffs for the fourth straight season and pushing the L.A. Lakers to seven games in the Western Division finals.
The Hawks drafted Lou Hudson in the 1966 offseason, and the high-scoring shooting guard paired with Wilkens to form one of the most potent backcourts in the NBA. The Hawks advanced to the Western Division finals again in 1967 and then posted a 56-win regular season in 1967-68 to earn the Western Division crown. For his efforts that season (20 ppg, 8.3 apg) Wilkens finished second in the NBA's MVP voting behind Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain.
Prior to the 1968-69 season the Hawks' franchise relocated to Atlanta. Wilkens and the Hawks were unable to come to terms on a contract and the team eventually traded Lenny to the Seattle SuperSonics for Walt Hazzard. While the trade placed Wilkens on an inferior team, it did open the door for him to get his first experience as a coach. Lenny served as a player/coach for Seattle for three seasons before getting traded to Cleveland and finishing his playing career with Portland in 1975.
Wilkens currently ranks fourth on the Hawks' all-time assists list and is also in the top-15 in minutes played, total points and free throws made.
After his retirement from playing in 1975, and with four years of experience as a player/coach under his belt, Wilkens went on to become one of the most successful coaches in NBA history.
After one year as a full-time coach with the Trail Blazers, Wilkens returned to Seattle where he eventually led the team to the 1979 NBA Championship.
After a seven year stint with the Cavaliers, Lenny returned to the Hawks in the summer of 1993, becoming the 24th head coach in franchise history. In his first season at the helm in Atlanta, the Hawks tied a franchise record with 57 wins, a 14-win increase from the previous season. Wilkens was rewarded by being named the 1994 NBA Coach of the Year.
With the Hawks in 1995, Wilkens reached a pair of coaching milestones, first passing Red Aurbauch as the NBA's winningest coach and then becoming the first NBA coach to reach 1,000 career wins.
Overall, Wilkens posted a 310-232 record in seven years as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, earning six trips to the postseason and one Central Division title.
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