There are many ways to study the Warriors’ long history. Scan the Internet, maybe pick up a few reference books, and you’re there cheap jerseys China.
There’s a simpler way, as well: Go straight to Al Attles.
Attles and fellow coaching legend Hubie Brown were honored at the NBA Finals Sunday with the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement award, presented annually by the National Basketball Coaches Association for “special contribution” over the years, joining a prestigious list of honorees including Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens, Tommy Heinsohn, Jack Ramsay, Dick Motta, K.C. Jones and Tex Winter.
Attles is also a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, elected in 2014 by winning the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement award.
There isn’t much about the Warriors that Attles, 80, doesn’t recognize from personal experience. He broke in as a rookie with the Philadelphia Warriors in 1960, playing alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Tom Gola and Paul Arizin, among others. Attles was an obscure, fifth-round draft pick out of North Carolina AT&T and figured he had no chance to make the team, but he wound up playing 11 years as one of the toughest, most defensive-minded guards in the league. (The Warriors moved to San Francisco for the 1962-63 season.)
Over 57 consecutive years with the organization — think about that for a moment — Attles has done it all, serving as the team’s general manager and later a multilayered administrator. He even held an ownership stake at one time.
He is most remembered, though, for his coaching. Over 13 years, he led the Warriors into six postseasons and notched a then-franchise record 59 wins in 1975-76. Attles started out as a player-coach, replacing George Lee, with 30 games left in the 1969-70 season, and when he was promoted to full-time duty in 1971-72, he became the first African American man to hold that distinction in any of the major sports.
Moreover, when the Warriors reached the 1975 Finals against Jones’ Washington Bullets, it was the first time two African American coaches had faced each other – another American pro-sports landmark.
Attles and Brown, 83, have a championship connection. Just as Attles’ Warriors won the 1975 title in a four-game sweep – “the biggest upset in the history of the three major sports, in my opinion,” said team mainstay Rick Barry – Brown coached the Kentucky Colonels to the ABA title that season, winning the finals in five games over the Indiana Pacers. Brown went on to coach the Hawks, Knicks and Grizzlies over a 13-year NBA coaching career.
As Brown greeted Attles before the press conference, he told him, “Two Jersey guys. We made it out of the neighborhood.” And Brown had a story to tell.
“I grew up in Elizabeth, he was from Newark, we go back a long way,” Brown said. “So I’m a high-school coach sitting on my couch, and you remember when ABC had the ‘Wide World of Sports,’ and there’s Howard Cosell interviewing Wilt Chamberlain. Said ‘Wilt, is it true that you are challenging Muhammad Ali to a heavyweight championship fight? How could you do this?’ And Wilt — this is great — puts his hand up and said, ‘Howard, there’s only one guy that I would never fight. And that’s ‘The Destroyer,’ Al Attles.’”
As old Warriors teammate Tom Meschery recalled, “He really earned that nickname. Al was the single toughest fighter I ever saw in the league. But I think he deserves plenty of credit as a player. He was a guy with great lateral movement and fabulous speed. He could beat everybody in a footrace, even Wilt. He would have made every all-defensive team if they’d had ‘em back then, and he’d guard anyone: Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy. Most of the publicity went to K.C. Jones as a backcourt defender, because he was on more of a sexy team (the Celtics), so people tended to overlook Al. Not the players, though.”