You can’t talk about basketball in Seattle without talking about Lenny Wilkens, the Hall of Famer who brought the city its only NBA championship as coach of the Sonics.
Wilkens has been on the front lines of the effort to bring the NBA back to Seattle and he recently spoke with Q13 FOX News about basketball and more.
"It'd be wonderful,” Wilkens said of the prospect of an NBA team back in Seattle. “I would love that. I would love to be part of it. I think that I know basketball, you know, I've been in the NBA just about my whole life and certainly I believe we could make this a very, very successful franchise."
Success is something Wilkens knows well. He was a two-time all-American at Providence College, a 15-year NBA veteran, and the second-winningest coach in NBA history. He thinks the Chris Hansen plan for an arena in Seattle's Sodo district has the chance to be a success, too.
"The politicians want to make sure everything is good for Seattle, however, we do benefit the city,” Wilkens said of an NBA team. “The players live here, their kids go to school, they pay taxes, OK? And the arena employs a lot of people."
Wilkens is less concerned about whether that team is called the Sonics.
“It’d be nice, but i'm not hung up on that,” he said. “I think a lot of people would like it, probably, but really for me, I just want to see a professional team here."
He's involved, he said, but not at the level NBA fans are accustomed to seeing him in.
"Well, I don't want to coach,” he said, laughing.
Instead, Wilkens is interested in consulting or heading up operations for a potential team – a job he held in 2007, the year the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City.
Whatever his involvement, Wilkens will always be a basketball fan. He coached the 1996 Olympic men’s basketball team and helped mentor this year’s squad before they left for London. He said he would be watching more than just basketball, though.
“I like swimming. I like boxing. I like gymnastics. So, I'll be hooked."
Wilkens’ real love at this point is giving back to the community. He calls Seattle the greatest city he’s ever lived in.
"I feel when you live in a community, you want to give back to it,” Wilkens said. “And the community has supported me and my family tremendously. And young people, I tell this to people all the time, young people, they're tomorrow's citizens. They're our future doctors, lawyers, politicians, athletes, so we need to be very positive about it to them."
Wilkens’ charity, the Lenny Wilkens Foundation, does just that. It provides medical, dental, and social services to children and families who can’t afford them. Most of the funds go to the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in Seattle.
For Wilkens, who lives on the Eastside with his wife of 50 years, Marilyn, the partnership is natural.
“I heard a very long time ago, you never stoop too low when you stoop to help a child,” he said. “My dad died when I was 5 and my mother had to raise five of us. She was a tough lady, but she'd always tell us, ‘Honesty and integrity will define your character’, and so I always remembered that."
If you wish to contact the Lenny Wilkens Foundations, click here.