OAKLAND – Al Attles, whose legacy as a Warriors icon dates back 57 years as a player, coach, executive and ambassador, was named Sunday as a co-recipient of the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award along with longtime NBA coach and broadcaster Hubie Brown.
The award, sponsored by the National Basketball Coaches Association, is Attles’ second lifetime achievement award in the past three years. In 2014, he received a similar honor from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but this latest one is equally prestigious. Past winners include K.C. Jones, Jerry Sloan, Bill Fitch, Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens, Tex Winter, Jack Ramsay and Tommy Heinsohn.
Attles, who was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and had his number retired by his North Carolina A&T alma mater two years ago, had a typically self-deprecating reaction to his latest accolade.
“I guess it means they haven’t caught up to me yet,” he said with a laugh. “Seriously, it’s a really nice honor and I appreciate it very much.”
Attles, 80, coached the Warriors for 13 seasons, including the 1974-75 championship team that marked the franchise’s first NBA title in the Bay Area, and he remains the winningest coach in club history with 588 victories. He still attends virtually every game of the current team, which won the title in 2015 and is seeking another this season.
Attles is enjoying the heck out of the latest Warriors team, understanding that it has a lot of similarities with his title team, notably the emphasis on up-tempo offense, tenacious defense and a committed utilization of roster depth.
“Obviously, with this being the only franchise I’ve ever been a part of, it’s a tremendous honor just to be around to see what’s happening now,” Attles said. “But the most important thing is that every team has to have its own identity. If it happens to be something close to what someone else did, that’s fine. But it’s just a pleasure to watch these guys have so much success, because it’s not as easy as some people think with so much good competition in our league.”
Attles has particular admiration for head coach Steve Kerr and how he’s built a foundation so strong that the Warriors haven’t missed a beat with assistant Mike Brown serving as acting head coach while Kerr has been sidelined with a recurrence of complications from a back surgery gone wrong nearly two years ago.
“Mike’s been great, and that all stems from the relationships you have with the head coach and you just carry on with what he has been doing,” Attles said. “Obviously, you hate for anyone to be out when they’ve done so much for the team, but that’s just the nature of the business. You just hope that Steve gets well soon.”
Brown stepping in for Kerr did create a scenario in the NBA Finals in which two black head coaches, along with Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue, are leading their respective benches for the first time since that 1975 championship season, when Attles coached the Warriors and K.C. Jones helmed the Washington Bullets.
Attles said his reaction when first asked about that development was the same as when it occurred 40 years ago – it didn’t really dawn on him.
“I played against K.C. for so many years and we had known each other a long time,” he said. “Whether people thought it was right or wrong back then, we were just going to work and trying to do the best job we could – you’re trying to win, because that’s what it’s all about. It’s something we never really discussed.”
Attles and Brown, the latter currently an analyst with ESPN Radio on NBA Finals broadcasts, were scheduled to be acknowledged for their respective honors during Sunday night’s Game 2. Attles said he was happy to share recognition with Brown, who told a great story during the Oracle Arena award presentation about an interview Wilt Chamberlain did with Howard Cosell for a once-bantered boxing match with then-heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.
“Wilt was great,” Brown said. “He says, Howard, there’s only one guy I would never fight, and that happens to be `The Destroyer,’ Al Attles. I almost fell off my couch.”
Attles was a teammate of Chamberlain for several years with the Warriors. He played with Rick Barry and Jim Barnett and also coached both players, who were present at the pregame awards ceremony. Attles laughed at the Chamberlain story and anointed Brown and himself as “The Jersey Boys.”
“We both grew up in New Jersey, and I was a bit ahead of him coming into the NBA,” he said. “But Hubie was a good coach and a good guy, so it’s great to be honored alongside him.”