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Lenny Wilkens Way: Seattle street honors local basketball legend

Thomas Street was renamed after the former Sonics player and coach.

SEATTLE — Leonard Randolph Wilkens paved the road for so many people, so perhaps it's fitting he now has a Seattle street named after him. 

"I came here years ago kicking and screaming," said the guy most people know as Lenny, a three-time basketball hall of famer and legendary local philanthropist who endeared himself to the community decades ago as the 1979 Seattle Supersonic Championship Coach. 

"There were 200,000 people downtown - 200,000 people - and they weren't trying to break or tear anything down. They were just celebrating with the Sonics. It's a magical moment," Wilkens said with a twinkle in his eye. 

Wilkens raised his children with his wife Marilyn in the Seattle area, while trying to help other children as well. He became the biggest fundraiser and supporter of the Odessa Brown Children's Clinic in Seattle's Central District, helping to single-handily raise millions for the clinic that provides health care to families in need. 

"When I went through the clinic and saw how they were treating these young people with respect," Wilkens said. "A sick kid in school put their head down on a desk, they don't learn anything, here is someone trying to help them be healthy so that when they're in the classroom, they can learn." 

His philanthropic and civic ventures set him apart from just another former basketball player in the community. Wilkens has inspired others, such as NBA player Jamal Crawford, to give time and money for various community organizations. Wilkens standing also brought stars of stage, screen, and sport back to the community for philanthropic endeavors. 

Those efforts, when combined with his on-the-court accomplishments, stood out to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a noted basketball fan herself.  A couple of years ago, she floated legislation to rename the stretch of road outside Climate Pledge Arena after the former coach. The council approved it earlier this year. 

On Thursday, Oct. 28, Durkan, along with former Sonics and local leaders, will gather on the road formerly known as Thomas Street to dedicate the space near where Wilkens played and coached. It will be a birthday celebration of sorts for the former Sonics leader, who will be 84 years old. 

"I was a little surprised at first," Wilkens said. "Life has a way of making things happen. It's an honor."

Wilkens said he hopes the street signs will prompt young people to live like the name, "Lenny Wilkens Way." 

"I want young people to believe they can make a difference," he said. 

The ceremony will take place noon to 1 p.m. on the Southwest corner of the Climate Pledge Arena site.