Atlanta Hawks' Lenny Wilkens Closes In on Auerbach Record

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WHAT once looked almost untouchable, namely Red Auerbach's record of 938 career coaching victories in National Basketball Association regular-season games, clearly isn't. Soft-spoken Lenny Wilkens, whose current team is the Atlanta Hawks, has now amassed 910 wins in 21 seasons coaching four teams, including the Seattle SuperSonics twice. His other stops were Portland and Cleveland. Each team he coached he once played for.

Wilkens has been part of the NBA scene since 1960, when he came out of Providence College as the first-round draft choice of the old St. Louis Hawks. A clever playmaking guard, he was always a coach on the floor, so it wasn't too surprising in later years that he would become a player-coach on two occasions - with Seattle and Portland in the early 1970s. Wilkens became the only other NBA coach to reach the 900-win milestone last month, and should surpass Auerbach sometime next season.

``I always admired Red, and it will certainly be an achievement for me,'' he says, ``but I couldn't care less about the recognition part. I had that as a player. I like to focus in on helping players develop, knowing that if they're successful, I'm going to be, too.''

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One might say Wilkens has compiled his victory total the hard way. Whereas Auerbach guided one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports (nine NBA crowns in 10 years), Wilkens has directed only one championship team, Seattle, which claimed its first and only title in 1979.

Bill Walton, who played under Wilkens in Portland during the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons and was the league's Most Valuable Player in 1977-78, says Wilkens had the misfortune of coaching the Trail Blazers right before that franchise got hot and won the 1977 NBA title. In his new book ``Nothing But Net,'' Walton says his numerous injury-related absences during his first two seasons in the league held back the team under Wilkens and indirectly may have led to Wilkens's firing. Wilkens ``did as good a job as humanly possible,'' Walton says. ``You have to be careful about giving too much credit to [coach Jack] Ramsay and not enough credit to Wilkens when assessing Portland's early success as a franchise.''

Wilkens currently has the Hawks, perennial underachievers, atop the NBA's Central Division. In an effort to bring the team its first championship since moving from St. Louis in 1968, the club recently traded flashy Dominique Wilkins to the Los Angeles Clippers for Danny Manning, a solid all-around talent. Hockey Satisfaction: Break Ties a Better Way

Until this year in Lillehammer, Norway the Olympic ice-hockey championship never had to be decided by a shootout. And while it is a suspenseful tiebreaking procedure, it hardly seems fair that the gold-medal game between Sweden and Canada should have come down to a contrived contest between two players - a goalie and a shooter - in a series of penalty shots.

Sweden won when Peter Forsberg slipped the puck past the pads of Canadian goalkeeper Corey Hirsch, this after a 10-minute sudden-death overtime in which the teams were deadlocked, 2-2. Even the five-shots-per-side shootout tie required ``overtime.''

Maybe Olympic officials should have awarded both teams gold medals. They deserved it, after showing they were equals at the end of an exhausting two-week tournament. If hockey ties must be broken to decide medals, why not involve more players in breaking them?

Following regular overtime, each team could be given a one-player advantage for a two-minute power play.

A goal by the short-handed team would end the game, but if the team with the numerical edge scored, the other team would get a chance to counter. If this didn't settle things after a couple of turns, then each team could alternately be given a two-player advantage. Fenway Park's Unknown Future

During a visit last week to the Florida spring training camp of baseball's Red Sox, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino broached the possibility of moving the team out of Fenway Park into a new stadium. Mayor Menino recognizes the wrenching nature of his suggestion. ``To move from Fenway Park would be disastrous, but we know Fenway can't exist forever,'' he was quoted in the Boston Globe.

``Megaplex'' talk has generally centered around providing a covered stadium for the New England Patriots football team. But Menino says that it's more logical to include a baseball park, with 81 home dates, than a football stadium, with eight regular-season games, in any plans to build a new Boston convention center and sports complex.

While it's easy to understand the attachment many fans have to historic Fenway Park, there's no reason that Boston can't have a brand new park that incorporates all the modern amenities, yet has the look and feel of Fenway.

Menino hints at the possibilities by pointing to the Baltimore Orioles' new Camden Yards stadium, a paragon of modern virtue with yesteryear charm.

``What we don't want is a sterile stadium with no character,'' he says. But there's nothing to prevent architects from integrating some of Fenway's most famous features, including its towering left-field wall, into a new design.

In fact, Indians Park, the new home of the Cleveland Indians, will have a 19-foot-high wall in left field when it opens next month. This ``little Green Monster'' will look much like Fenway's 37-foot-high Green Monster, only it will have bleacher seats instead of a screen above it.

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