Al Attles has been a part of the Golden State Warriors organization since 1960, before they moved to the Bay Area. Through his career as a player, a coach, a general manager and a civic leader, Attles had had a big part in the success of the Warriors in the past as well as the present. This is his story.
Alvin Austin “Al” Attles Jr. was born on November 7, 1936 in Newark New Jersey. After graduating from Weequahic High School, Attles accepted a scholarship offer from North Carolina A&T State University. He led the Aggies to a semifinal loss to Evansville in the NCAA College Division Basketball Tournament in 1959 After finishing his collegiate career, he was drafted in the fifth round of the 1960 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia Warriors. He originally intended to teach junior high but decided to give basketball another shot. Little did he know that he had just stepped into his life’s work.
When Al Attles joined the Warriors, the organization was led by Wilt Chamberlain, a fantastic athletic specimen who was dominating the league at a historical pace. As a rookie, it was Attles’ job to provide support for the franchise player. He averaged seven points and 2.8 rebounds as a rookie and road helped the Warriors get to the playoffs where they would lose to the Syracuse Nationals in the East Division Semifinals.
Attles contributed even more in the 1961-1962 season, averaging 11.3 points and 4.4 assists per game. It was a historic year, one of which will never be replicated. Chamberlain averaged an astounding 50.4 points per game and once scored 100 points in a single game. Attles was second on the team in that game, contributing 17 points of his own while making six assists. That night of March 2, 1962 has stood the test of time and no one has come close to duplicating Chamberlain’s performance.
In those days, there was a great rivalry between the Warriors and the Celtics, or rather, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, the two biggest stars on those teams. Though Chamberlain had a historic season, Russell was surrounded with Hall of Fame talent and the Celtics beat the Warriors in the East Conference Finals in seven games.
Following their loss to the Celtics, the Warriors moved to California to become the San Francisco Warriors. They moved into the Cow Palace in Daly City and brought with them all the playmaking ability that they could muster. Incredibly, six members of the team finished averaging more than ten points a game. Attles was sixth on the team, averaging 10.4 points and 2.6 assists per game. Once again, Wilt Chamberlain dominated the stat line, averaging 44.8 points and 24.8 rebounds per game. Despite Chamberlain’s great propensity for scoring point and collecting rebounds, the Warriors failed to make the playoffs in their first year in the Western Conference.
The Warriors rebounded the following year, earning the top seed in the Western Conference. Once again, six men averaged more than ten points per game and once again, Al Attles provided a supportive role, averaging 10.9 points, 2.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. Chamberlain dominated again, averaging 36.9 points, 22.3 rebounds and five assists per game. No longer shackled with the Celtics in their division, the Warriors powered their way to the NBA Finals. Attles averaged 10.6 points and 3.2 rebounds for the series. The Warriors gave the Celtics all they could handle but it was not enough, losing in five games.
Wilt Chamberlain left for the Philadelphia 76ers in the middle of the next season. Long dependant on the great athleticism of the center, San Francisco struggled mightily in 1964-1965; finishing at the bottom of their division. Attles didn’t do as well in that season, averaging just 9.3 points and 2.8 assists. The following season was much the same for the Warriors but Attles performed better, averaging 11.2 points and 4.1 rebounds.
The previous two years were tough, but the Warriors rebounded in 1966-1967 and reached the NBA Finals where they faced off against Wilt Chamberlain and his Philadelphia 76ers. The Warriors fought valiantly, refusing to lose at home until Game Six. Philadelphia beat the Warriors and won the NBA championship 125-122. Al Attles began to show some decline that season, averaging just 7.4 points per game and only 3.8 points in the NBA Finals. However, at that point the Warriors had added stars such as Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond.
Attles improved the following season, averaging 9.8 points per game as the Warriors once again reached the postseason. This time, however, they would be swept by the Los Angeles Lakers who were on their way to another loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
The 1968-1969 season was Attles’ last great year to win a championship as a player. While he averaged just 8.2 points, he did record six rebounds per game, a career best. In addition to his play on the court, he also served the team as an assistant coach. Once again, the Lakers squelched the Warrior’s hopes for that elusive NBA championship, this time in the West Division Semifinals.
The following year was forgettable with the Warriors winning just 30 games. Attles played one more year and also replaced George Lee as the Warrior’s head coach. In that final season, he led the team to a .500 record and the last spot in the playoffs. They lost to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Milwaukee Bucks in the first round in five games. At the conclusion of the season, Al Attles moved on full time to coaching where the quiet player would make his biggest impact.
Al Attles began his post-playing career in a new arena as the Warriors moved to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena in 1971. The Warriors were talented but, unfortunately, this happened to be the year that the Lakers finally won it all. They went a league best 69-13, leaving the 51-31 Warriors in their dust. Once again, the Warriors lost to the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
The Warriors fought and clawed their way past the Bucks in the first round and went to the Western Conference Finals in 1973, where they faced off against the aging Lakers. The Lakers prevailed in five games, ultimately losing to the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals. All those heartbreaking losses in the playoffs took a toll on the Warriors and they missed the playoffs in 1974 by just three games.
A Champion at Last
After more than a decade of assisting some of the game’s greats in their pursuit of an elusive championship, the 1974-1975 season looked to finally be the year that Al Attles would earn a championship. It wasn’t easy, as nothing worth having ever is. Though they won their division for the first time in franchise history and earned the top spot in the Western Conference playoffs, the Warriors were largely looked down upon. The playoffs were not easy. The Warriors earned a hard fought 4-2 series victory over the Seattle Supersonics in the first round. The Chicago Bulls fought for their lives but ultimately lost in seven games in the Western Conference Finals. At long last, the Warriors were headed to the NBA Finals.
The Washington Bullets were heavily favored, having won 60 games. To make things worse, the Warriors couldn’t even play in their own stadium as Oracle Arena was hosting the Ice Follies during the Finals. It was a different era in the NBA, back when an ice show could overtake the NBA Finals. Instead, the Warriors were forced to play their home games during the Finals in the Cow Palace. No matter where they played, they were determined to win. Surprisingly, the Warriors swept the Bullets and brought a championship to the Bay Area.
Even though the Warriors won 11 more games than the year before, they couldn’t get past the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals, losing in seven games. From there, the Warriors would begin a steady decline. They lost to the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs the following year and thus ended Al Attles’ time in the playoffs. He would never coach a team to the NBA playoffs again.
They barely missed the playoffs in 1978, winning 43 games. The Warriors had a losing season for the next three years, bottoming out in a strike shortened 1980, winning just 18 games. Though they rebounded in 1982 with 45 wins, they missed the playoffs by one game. After winning just 30 games in 1983, Al Attles time as a head coach came to an end; becoming the team’s general manager soon after. At the end of his coaching career, he was the Warriors all time winningest coach with 557 victories and he has remained with the organization in one capacity or another ever since; seeing the organization at its worst and at its dynastic best. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.