He didn’t think his pro basketball career would last a day. It’s lasted 50 years. With one team, the Warriors.
There’s a song in “Follies,” the Sondheim musical of aging chorus girls recalling the 1920s and 1930s, titled “I’m still here.” Good times and bum times, the lady has been through them all. So, in his own way, has Al Attles. And always with the Warriors, whether Philadelphia, where he and they started, San Francisco or Oakland.
He was on the court in March of 1962 in Hershey, Pa., when Wilt Chamberlain scored his 100 points against the Knicks. Al was the second-highest scorer that night, 17 points on 8-of-8 from the floor and 1-of-1 from the line, and no, he never said, “I was perfect and nobody talked to me.”
He was off the court when the Warriors won their NBA championship, a head coach ejected in Game 4 of the 1975 finals sweep for trying to protect star Rick Barry in a near-brawl with the Washington Bullets’ Mike Riordan.
As a player, Al was nicknamed “The Destroyer.” He was a coach, reluctantly — three times in 1970 he refused the pleas of owner Franklin Mieuli until finally agreeing. He held the general manager position when Chris Mullin was drafted in 1985 and is now a community relations ambassador. Attles was a seventh-round draft pick in 1960, from North Carolina A&T.
“One of the girls came up to me on campus and told me congratulations,” he recalled. “I said, ‘For what?’ She said, ‘You’re a pro.’ She heard on the radio I had been picked. There wasn’t all the hoopla around the draft there is today.
“There were only eight teams in the league, I came from a small college. I didn’t think I had a chance.”
He accepted a teaching job in his hometown, Newark, N.J., and played weekends for an Eastern League team in Baltimore.
“Then I got a call from the Warriors in Philadelphia,” he said. “The rest is history.”
He thought he might leave in one of the expansion drafts.
He thought at times he might be traded. But like the Follies performer, he’s still here, a few days past his 73rd birthday.
“Guys didn’t dunk,” Attles said comparing past with the present. “I’m not one of those guys who said the players then were better.
They’re so much better athletically today, but they don’t think the game of basketball.”
Attles can tell you there was an unwritten rule against using too many black players in an NBA lineup, a prejudice now long overcome. He can tell you when the Warriors, after moving west, played home games in Richmond, the USF gym, San Jose Civic, San Francisco Civic, Oakland Auditorium and the Cow Palace; and, of course, he can tell you about Wilt and the
“They’d foul us,” Attles said about the Knicks, “and we’d foul them. Wilt kept going to the line. He made 28 out of 32 free throws. Our coach Frank McGwire wouldn’t let him come out of the game.
“When it was over, Wilt was sitting next to me, and all he would say was, ‘I never thought I’d ever take 60 shots in a game.’ He was upset. A lot of people think we lost, but we won, 169-147. It was a special night.”
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.