When the Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, May 27 to win the Western Conference championship, that was a big moment for the Warriors franchise. Golden State will be making its first trip to the NBA Finals since 1975.
The Warriors won the NBA championship that year. Al Attles was the head coach of that team. That’s why it was so appropriate to have Attles at the trophy presentation and celebration along with the Warriors star players Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and others.
Attles, 78, is a big part of the Warriors history. He was one of the first African American coaches in the NBA. In 1975, that was a very prominent year for Black head coaches in the NBA. In fact, it was the first time two African American head coaches faced each other in the NBA Finals.
Golden State swept the Washington Bullets for the NBA crown. The Bullets were coached by K.C. Jones who later coached the Boston Celtics to two NBA titles in 1984 and 1986. That year featured two African American head coaches in the NBA Finals.
Attles was a brilliant coach, but he was also a outstanding basketball player. He grew up in Newark, N.J., but has a lot of Philadelphia connections. He played college basketball with the Vince Miller and Joe Howell at North Carolina A&T. Miller was a great player at Overbrook High School. He was Wilt Chamberlain’s high school teammate and best friend. Howell was a sensational player at West Philadelphia High School and CIAA basketball legend.
In 1960, Attles was a fifth round pick of the Philadelphia Warriors. At the time, he wasn’t thinking about a career in the NBA. But Miller suggested that Attles give the Warriors a chance. He went to training camp and made the team. He played in the backcourt with former Northeast High and Temple star Guy Rodgers. He also played with Villanova’s Paul Arizin with the Warriors.
Of course, Attles played in one of the most memorable basketball games in sports history. He scored 17 points in Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. He shot 8-for-8 from the field and 1-for-1 from the free throw line. His backcourt mate Guy Rodgers handed out 20 assists and Arizin scored 16 points as the Philadelphia Warriors topped the New York Knicks, 169-147 on March 2, 1962 in Hershey, Pa. Chamberlain’s 100-point against the Knicks was 53 years ago. Attles still has great memories of Chamberlain’s magnificent game as well as his basketball career.
“Wilt had a tremendous game,” Attles said. “He was just an outstanding player. I played with him for four years. I know a lot of people watched him on television. But I played with him every day. People don’t realize how good he was. He could do it all. Some people forget he led the league in assists one year.”
In 1962, the Philadelphia Warriors franchise moved San Francisco. Attles has been a member of the Warriors organization for 53 years. In his five decades with the Warriors, he has served as a player, coach, general manager, scout and ambassador. Attles has seen the Warriors go from Philadelphia to San Francisco and now Golden State.
For Attles, this past year has been very exciting for him. In 2014, he received the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The award honors coaches, players and contributors whose outstanding accomplishments have contributed to the high school, college, professional or international game.
In addition, he was happy to see U.S. Postal Service honor Chamberlain with two Forever stamps. One based on a photograph of Chamberlain in a Philadelphia Warriors uniform; the other is based on an image of Chamberlain in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform.
Now, the Golden State Warriors will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. The first game of the NBA championship series will begin on Thursday, June 4. Attles will be watching to see if the Warriors can bring a league championship to the Bay Area and the fans at Oracle Arena.
“It’s been a long time,” Attles said. “It’s been 40 years. I know a lot of people are looking forward to it. We have a few days before the first game, but once the series starts it should be really exciting.”
This is an exciting time for Al Attles and the Golden State Warriors.