Wilkens Offers Congratulations to Nelson for Tying Coaching Wins Record
Lenny Wilkens hadn't heard the news until he got a call from a FanHouse reporter shortly after 9:30 p.m. ET Sunday. Don Nelson had tied his NBA record for coaching wins about an hour earlier.
Wilkens, who has been retired since after the 2004-05 season and lives in Seattle, had just flown in to Las Vegas, where he will spend time this week with two granddaughters. But he paused to speak about not being the sole holder of the coaching wins mark for the first time in more than 15 years.
"I just think that congratulations are in order for Nellie,'' Wilkens, 72, said about Nelson, 69, tying him with at 1,332 wins when Golden State won 113-112 Sunday night at Toronto. "Hey, records are made to be broken. I either thought it would be Nellie or Pat Riley (eventually breaking it). I just want to say congratulations.''
Wilkens, a Hall of Famer as a player and coach, broke Red Auerbach's then record with his 939th win with Atlanta on Jan. 6, 1995. Wilkens, who won a title with Seattle in 1979, also coached Portland, Cleveland, Toronto and New York, compiling a 1,332-1,155 mark in 32 seasons.
Nelson is 1,332-1,060 in 31 seasons. Other than Golden State, he's coached Milwaukee, New York and Dallas.
Wilkens said his pre-arranged travel schedule won't allow him to be on hand when Nelson goes for the record Tuesday at Washington or at any other possible future attempts. With it hardly being difficult to find an NBA game on television in Las Vegas, Wilkens was asked if he might look to watch Tuesday's game.
"I don't know,'' he said. "I'm not going to change my plans for the week. I can't do that.''
But what if he's near a TV and learns the Warriors are ahead late?
"Yeah, I might,'' he said.
Nelson, who is a finalist for induction into the Hall of Fame but will not be selected Monday as part of the 2010 class, never has won an NBA title or even been to the Finals. But Wilkens said that would take nothing away from Nelson holding the record by himself.
"I think that any NBA coach who has 1,000 wins is doing a good job,'' said Wilkens, who might call Nelson to offer congratulations after the record is set. "I think that you've had a wonderful career.'''
When Wilkens broke Auerbach's mark, he took a few puffs of a victory cigar in a tribute to the legendary Boston coach, who won nine NBA titles and regularly lit up after wins. When asked if there is anything Nelson could do after setting the record as a tribute to Wilkens, the conservative Wilkens said he there was no notable routine he had after wins.
But chances are Nelson will have plenty of good things to say about Wilkens whenever he might set the mark. Asked by FanHouse in January about being on the verge of breaking Wilkens' record, Nelson said, "I'd be sad because (Wilkens) was my idol, but I also would be proud.''
Wilkens, who said he was "flattered'' to hear Nelson call him his "idol,'' actually didn't coach in that many big games against Nelson even though the two were NBA head coaches for much of the period between 1977-2005. That's primarily because the two usually were in opposite conferences. Nelson first was mostly with Milwaukee in the East while Wilkens was with Seattle in the West and Nelson later mostly was in the West with Golden State and Dallas after Wilkens went East for his final 19 seasons.
The two met for the first time Dec. 9, 1977, when Wilkens' SuperSonics beat Nelson's Bucks 136-123 at home. Their final meeting was Dec. 21, 2004, when Wilkens' Knicks lost 123-94 at home to Nelson's Mavericks.
They met just once in the playoffs. Wilkens' Sonics defeated Nelson's Bucks in seven games in a 1980 Western Conference semifinal, the final season before Milwaukee shifted to the East.
"It was a good series,'' said Wilkens, whose team won Game 6 86-85 in Milwaukee and Game 7 at home 98-94 after trailing the series 3-2. "We won a big game in Milwaukee. It was hotly contested. We're both competitors.''
Soon, Wilkens will have to change his resume. Although it no longer will say "NBA's winningest coach,'' he said not much will be different for him.
"It was a nice accomplishment,'' Wilkens said of 15-plus years as the NBA's winningest coach. "A lot of good things have happened to me (as a coach), winning a championship, coaching in the Olympics.''
For now, though, foremost on Wilkens' mind is seeing his two granddaughters.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson