"No," he says, not a muscle in his face betraying him. "I'm not. I just look like him."
He takes the Sonics' coaching job a second time in 1977, two years after his playing days are over. Seattle is 5-17 when he walks in. He moves Dennis Johnson, John Johnson and Jack Sikma into the starting lineup, talks veterans Paul Silas and Freddie Brown into roles coming off the bench. Bingo! It's a swarming Sonic team that'll rip your teeth out to get a loose ball, that'll knock you over and then walk away when you reach up for a lift off the floor; a team critics will forget 14 years later in Cleveland when they say that the Cavaliers are the inevitable product of a low-key, passionless coach. In '77-78, the Sonics go 42-18 under Wilkens, make it to the Finals before losing to the Washington Bullets. Lenny doesn't win Coach of the Year. He'll admit it, eventually: This one hurts. They win it all the next year, beat the Bullets in five in the Finals. Again, no Coach of the Year. Check whichever box you will:
His one night at the pinnacle, what does he do? He stays in the Sonics' bus as his players go whooping off to enter the team's hotel in Washington, D.C. A party's about to burst out upstairs, the national media and hordes of well-wishers are waiting in the lobby. Lenny directs the driver to pull the bus to the rear of the hotel, walks to the kitchen door where restaurant owners once sent him to eat and slips, unnoticed, up to the room of two Army buddies and a lifelong friend from Bed-Stuy. He spends the night talking and sipping a little from their champagne.
It's during a critical late-season game that the tap on his arm occurs. With the Sonics up two on the Lakers with three minutes left, Lenny's 13-year-old son, Randy, asks his dad, as the ball's flying upcourt, if he can have a dollar for a hot dog. Here it is, the ultimate test of priorities, patience, integrity and facial muscles, the movie skit in front of 14,000 people. Lenny turns away from the game, pulls out his wallet and hands the kid a buck.
"Dad...when did your father die? What did he die of?"
"Who wants to know?"
"It's our assignment, Dad. We're supposed to make a little family tree."
"Why do they want to know that?"
"I don't know. It's just homework."