The Toronto Raptors struggled through some truly awful basketball through the first few years of their NBA existence, but the hiring of Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkens helped turn this team around as soon as he arrived in Toronto.
Wilkens ended his Raptors tenure with a sub-.500 record, but he made the playoffs in two of his first three seasons. Wilkens took a team that was fraying at the seams under Butch Carter and helped them orchestrate some deep playoff runs. For that, Raptors fans are forever in his debt.
Wilkens will always be known as a Seattle Supersonics and Atlanta Hawks immortal due to his success on the court and on the sideline with those teams, but Wilkens shows that he still has plenty of love for the Raptors and their very passionate fanbase.
Appearing on the Raptors Podtable podcast, Wilkens offered a bit of a retrospective on his time in Toronto. He didn’t stay long, bolting for the New York Knicks after a handful of seasons, but he spoke fondly of his time up north.
Lenny Wilkens loved his time with the Toronto Raptors.
“They were new to the game of professional basketball,” Wilkins said of Canada. “I thought this would be a huge challenge and a great opportunity to see what we could do there.”
Wilkens took time to single out Raptors fans, who he claimed was an integral part of the reason that Carter and the rest of the team were able to finally get over the hump. “They had a good fanbase, and they became even better,” Wilkins said. “They were enthusiastic, they supported their team, they wanted to see them win, they came to the game.”
The 2000-01 Raptors overcame some long odds, even taking down a Knicks team that shocked the world and made it to the NBA Finals the prior year. While Vince Carter and the squad pulled out a win in that series, Wilkens lost to Allen Iverson and the upstart Philadelphia 76ers in the next round. Still, Wilkens
“I felt that we were a team that could go further than people thought,” Wilkens said of a plucky group that leaned on older veterans like Charles Oakley, Antonio Davis, and Dell Curry. “one we got into the playoffs, I felt confident. “It wasn’t easy, nothing is easy, but it was fun.”
Wilkens might not have his name all over the Toronto record books, but he is without question one of the more impactful figures in the history of the franchise, and Raptors fans need to give Wilkens his flowers for making them a respectable franchise.