Lenny Wilkens knows it's only a matter of time before he becomes the coach with the second most wins in NBA history behind the Warriors' Don Nelson. And after 15 years of being No. 1, he seems comfortable with being No. 2.
"I did talk to Nellie (Monday). He seems happy, and I'm happy for him," Wilkens said in a phone interview with Bay Area News Group. "What do they have? Six games left? He'll break the record."
Nelson, who now shares the record for most NBA coaching victories with Wilkens at 1,332, gets his first opportunity to be alone at the top of the list today when the Warriors play the slumping Washington Wizards at Verizon Center. Golden State concludes its four-game road trip with games against fellow sub-.500 teams Minnesota on Wednesday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.
Wilkens has been the NBA's all-time leader in coaching victories since Jan. 6, 1995, when his Atlanta Hawks beat the Washington Bullets 112-90 for his 939th career victory.
Red Auerbach, who had 938 NBA wins with the Boston Celtics and Tri-Cities Blackhawks, was at the Omni that night to see his record broken. After the game, Wilkens, in true Auerbach and even Nelson-like form, took a few puffs of a cigar.
"Red to me was an icon, and it was a great experience having him there that night," Wilkens said. "I had so much respect for him, he was a great coach. I feel the same way about Nellie. He's been around the game for a long time and has worked
Nelson's teams for most of his 31-year coaching career have been characterized by high-octane offenses, in which players such as Chris Mullin, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash flourished and became All-Stars. His approach helped to orchestrate turnarounds in Milwaukee, Dallas and in two stints as the Warriors coach.
Wilkens also coached numerous All-Stars during his 35 years. But his teams were clearly more defensive-minded, which helped turn around teams such as Seattle, Cleveland and Atlanta. Wilkens' teams made the playoffs 20 times, with Seattle winning the NBA championship in 1979.
"Every coach is different," Wilkens said. "You have to do what fits you."
Nelson has said he intends to coach the Warriors in the 2010-11 season — the final year of his contract — and then retire from professional basketball. If that's the way things unfold, he should have enough wins to hold the NBA record for career coaching victories for some time. Utah coach Jerry Sloan seems the most likely to pass Nelson one day, as he has 1,187 career wins.
"It's a great experience any time you can achieve a milestone like this," Wilkens said.
Whether holding this record will be enough to get Nelson into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame one day is another matter. Wilkens was inducted into the hall first as a player in 1989, then as a coach in 1998.
Nelson was a candidate for induction again this year, but he and Mullin were passed over when the announcement was made Monday. The 1992 U.S. Dream Team that won gold at the Barcelona Olympics, which Mullin played on, will be enshrined. Wilkens was an assistant coach to Chuck Daly for that team.
Note: Warriors guard Monta Ellis (flu) will miss his fourth straight game today. A team spokesman said Ellis still has not received the results of the lab work he had done Friday in the Bay Area.
Wizards, 4 p.m.
Coaching to the top
Most wins by an NBA coach: