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Seattle Sonics Throwback Thursday - Head Coach, Lenny Wilkens

This is the week, in 1977, that Lenny Wilkens took over the 5-17 Seattle Supersonics, turning them into an NBA Finals team. In Wilkins' prior stints as the Sonics coach he was both a player and coach, but not this time.

Lenny Wilkins: player, player-coach, coach
Lenny Wilkins: player, player-coach, coach
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

This throwback Thursday goes back to 1977. Lenny Wilkens had been a 9-time all-star player, then was a player-coach (yes, both) with the Sonics and Blazers. Wilkens stayed on one more year with the Blazers as their coach. The following year he became the Sonics director of player personnel. Lenny Wilkens took over Sonics coaching duties early in the 1977-78 season.

On November 30, 1977, Lenny Wilkens took over the coaching duties of a 5-17 team. Lenny Wilkens' Sonics ran off six straight wins to start his tenure, the first four on the road. The Sonics lost one game, and then won five more in a row.

For me, this was a very exciting and hopeful week as a Seattle Sonics fan. I hoped he could get them into the playoffs. Wilkins went 42-18 to finish out the Sonics regular season, with the team finishing 47-35.

In the playoffs, Lenny's Sonics were red hot; beating the Lakers in the first round 2-1, beating the Blazers in the second round 4-2, beating the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals 4-2, then losing to the Bullets in the NBA Finals 3-4.

Wilkens returned to Seattle in May, 1977 as director of player personnel. But 22 games into the 1977-78 season, with the Sonics at 5-17 under Bob Hopkins, Wilkens moved into the head coaching role. He then engineered a remarkable turnaround, guiding the team to the NBA Finals that season and then to an NBA championship the following year by defeating a favored Washington Bullets team led by Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. Using a team-oriented philosophy, Wilkens crafted a championship club out of a competent but unspectacular unit that included Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma, Fred Brown, John Johnson and Lonnie Shelton.

"I still remember when I took over that team," he recalled in 1994. "I had heard general managers and other people say it was the worst team ever. And when I turned them around, all of a sudden everyone said, 'Well, we all knew they had the talent.'" (

This was not the first time Wilkens was the Sonics coach. At the age of 32, Lenny Wilkens began his NBA coaching career with the Seattle Sonics in the 1969-70 season, as a player-coach. He also lead the league in assists that same year, with 683. Lenny was a player-coach five of six seasons with Seattle and Portland, bringing Seattle its first winning season in the 1971-72 season, and again lead the league in assists, with 766.

Wilkens finished his Hall of Fame coaching career in 2005 with 1332 wins and 1155 losses.

Wilkens ended his 15-year Hall of Fame playing career in the 1974-75 season, at the age of 37.
37 years later, I ask the poll question: what player today could also coach his team?