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If you like Lenny Wilkens's story, you might also like:
Hank Aaron,
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
Yogi Berra,
Julius Erving,
Mike Krzyzewski,
Peyton Manning,
Willie Mays,
Pete Rozelle,
Bill Russell and
John Wooden

Lenny Wilkens also appears in the video:
Heroes and the American Dream

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Lenny Wilkens
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Lenny Wilkens Interview (page: 7 / 7)

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  Lenny Wilkens

Where do you see yourself now? Are you going to stay with coaching? Do you have other dreams, other aspirations?

Lenny Wilkens: I try to do a lot of things. I'm at a point in my life or my career that I feel very confident. I don't have to prove something all the time. I think when we first start out in whatever profession we are in, if you're really serious about your profession you always feel like you've got to prove something, or at least I always did. I felt like I couldn't live on yesterday's headlines. I had to do something today and tomorrow, and keep it going. I'm more comfortable now. I don't let up but I have time for other things.


I'm very involved in the community. My wife and I, in Seattle we have what is called the Odessa Brown Children's Clinic, and they provide medical and dental care for low-income families whether you can afford to pay or not. And that means something to me having grown up in a low-income area where we were treated like numbers only at the clinics, because we couldn't afford a personal doctor or a personal dentist. And so the care these young people get is with dignity, and they're impressionable at that age and that's what I want.


Lenny Wilkens Interview Photo
We worked in Atlanta with the Atlanta Center for Abused Children and that's very important to us. In Cleveland it was Shoes for Kids. So those are very important to us. I run a golf tournament in Seattle where we raise funds that we give to the charities. We have one in Atlanta, too. I'm on the board of a couple of companies. I'm involved with some of their decision making, and I have my own little company which handles all my endorsements and appearances. My son helps me run it and he sets it up for me to do clinics all over the world. We're pretty busy. I've done some announcing and color commentary on TV. I think I'd like to do that for a little bit after I retire.

You moved around a lot as a player and a coach while your family was growing. What was it like to be uprooted so much?

Lenny Wilkens: It was hard. When we got to Seattle my son was almost two years old. My daughter was three-and-a-half. We liked it a lot and we decided right then and there that Seattle would be our home base no matter what I did. So when we went to these other places, we always kept a home in Seattle and we'd always come back. My wife and I agreed that we would have to concentrate on quality of time because I didn't have quantity of time. At the end of every season the family took a vacation together, and before the season started we took a vacation together. We tried to spend a lot of time with our kids. The important things for me are my belief in God, my family, and my job. Our kids knew we were always there for them. I feel very fortunate. I think they're all nice young adults.

How many kids?

Lenny Wilkens Interview Photo
Lenny Wilkens: I have three, two girls and a boy. The boy works for the Atlanta Hawks. He's our IT coordinator, and does all our computer stuff. He has a master's in psychology so he works on the personality tests we do when we bring in new athletes, and he does a lot of other things. My oldest daughter is married and has two little girls so we have two granddaughters. My other daughter works for Boeing. She's in computer animation, computer graphics. They're all doing fine. My son is in Atlanta, the two girls are in Seattle. They're Northwesterners. They love it and they won't go anywhere else.

Would you want your grandchildren to be pro ball players?

Lenny Wilkens: That's really up to them. My oldest daughter didn't like anything about basketball. I think she always felt it was taking me away from her. I think sports in general is a very good thing for young people; it teaches discipline, it teaches decision making. But I don't feel that sports is for everyone, and I would never push my kids to become tremendous athletes. I want them to evolve into the human beings they want to be. I'll be there to support them, and if it's sports they want to follow, fine. My son was a good athlete, but I think it's very difficult -- especially for a boy -- to follow in his father's footsteps and try to accomplish what I accomplished. I think that's very hard, and I don't want them to be judged by that.

A lot of kids grow up thinking they want to be in the NBA, but they can't all be in the NBA. Do you see a problem in the way we glorify our athletes today?

Lenny Wilkens: I think we glorify some of them too much and some not enough. Athletics is very good for people. There's nothing wrong with aspiring to be a professional athlete, but I tell young people that it's a narrow scope to only see the athlete. Broaden the scope.


We should never discourage young people from dreaming dreams. We all should have our dreams and dream them. Okay. But also see what surrounds it if you love professional sports, if you love the professional athlete. Now what are the things that surround him or her? There's the coach. There's the trainer. There's the team doctor, whether it's an orthopedic or internist or dentist or ophthalmologist. There's the advertising department, the marketing department, media relations department. There's a promotions department. There's ownership, general manager. So let your scope be here, okay. And if I'm shooting to be the professional athlete, and I learn all about professional sports, and I don't make it -- Boom! I'm over here. I'm still associated with the sport. So I tell young people, "Don't narrow your dream to here. Let your dream grow, and just broaden it."

[ Key to Success ] Vision


What does the American Dream mean to you?


Lenny Wilkens: The American Dream, to me, means having the opportunity to achieve, okay? Because I don't think you should be guaranteed anything other than the opportunity. I want you to let me fail or succeed, okay? And the thing that I tell young people, if you fail the first time that's just a chance to start over again so don't take it personally because it's like coming to a roadblock. If you can't go through it, find a way around it. Don't waste all your time banging your head against that. Move in another direction. So my philosophy becomes that I worry about the things I can affect, and the things I have no control over I move by.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream


Did you ever send NBA tickets to the teacher who said you'd never amount to anything?

Lenny Wilkens Interview Photo
Lenny Wilkens: No. If you put time and energy into revenge or getting back at people, you're the one who suffers. Not them. They've probably forgotten all about it and moved on.

I have a saying that I love. It's a little poem that a fan wrote on a menu and sent to me one time in a restaurant. I treasure it because I think it sums up my life, and it could sum up a lot of people's lives. It's called "The Solitary Bird."


The conditions for a solitary bird are five:
One, that it point its beak skyward.
Two, that it sing very softly.
Three, that it does not suffer for company, not even of its own kind.
Four, that it fly to the highest point.
And five, that it has no definite color.

That's beautiful. It has been a great pleasure. Thank you so much.

You're quite welcome.

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This page last revised on Sep 28, 2010 22:00 EDT
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