After more than 40 years, Lenny Wilkens is stepping away from his foundation that’s raised millions of dollars to benefit the Odessa Brown Clinic.
The former Sonics coach, who led Seattle to the 1979 NBA championship, said he’s in good health at 81 years old and wants to spend more time with his family, particularly his grandkids.
“My son has three kids in Georgia and my wife, Marilyn, likes going there to visit them,” Wilkens said. “My youngest daughter has two girls, 8 and 6. So we just would like to spend more time seeing them and being with them.
“Then we want to take a trip somewhere to be able to go and not have to worry. … It’s just time for me. Selfishly, I want the time for myself.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Wilkens had two stints in Seattle as a player and coach during a Hall of Fame career.
In the early 1970s, he was introduced to the Odessa Brown Clinic, a health care facility in the Central District neighborhood.
“When I first came to Seattle, the City of Hope had a little fundraiser and they wanted to have me involved,” Wilkens said. “We raised funds and we gave part of the funds to the City of Hope and part went to the Odessa Brown Clinic.
“When I saw what the clinic did and how it affected young people’s lives, I was blown away. There were a lot of people who couldn’t afford health care and here was a way to help them. If you didn’t have health insurance, you still got the service. So I got involved.”
Soon after that, Wilkens started the Lenny Wilkens Foundation and launched an annual golf tournament and auction that attracted sports and entertainment celebrities. The weekend celebration grew to become one of Seattle’s swankiest and biggest philanthropic events of the summer.
Last year, the annual celebrity weekend generated $550,000 for the Central District clinic.
The golf tournament this year has been canceled and the Aug. 10 auction is scheduled to be the final event for the foundation.
The future of the Lenny Wilkens Foundation is unclear at this point.
“We’re looking into that right now,” Wilkens said. “If it can find a way to generate funds for the Odessa Brown Clinic, then I want to keep it going. But I’m not going to do the dinner or the golf tournament anymore.”
Since his days as an Army lieutenant who participated with USO tours in Vietnam, Wilkens has spent most of his adult life helping others.
As a player in St. Louis in the 1960s, he worked with high-school dropouts. While coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers in the late 1980s and early ’90s, he partnered with the nonprofit organization Shoes for Kids that donated footwear during the holidays.
And in Seattle, Wilkens helped a countless number of children and families through his foundation and work with the Odessa Brown Clinic.
“I tell young people all the time, once you secure yourself, if you have an opportunity to give back to the community to make it better then think about it,” Wilkens said. “I’ve really been blessed. Having had the opportunity to do a lot of things that have touched people’s lives has been wonderful.”