OAKLAND – On a night when the role of an NBA coach loomed especially large – Steve Kerr returning to the sideline in Game 2 for the Golden State Warriors, feeling fit enough to relieve assist Mike Brown – two of the league’s toughest old legends were honored Sunday by their peers.
Al Attles and Hubie Brown, who made their bones in New Jersey before racking up victories and accolades in the NBA, were named co-recipients of the 2017 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award.
Attles, 80, would have been deserving in any year, but his selection by a panel of National Basketball Coaches Association members now is especially notable for his long tenure with the Warriors. As a point guard, out of North Carolina A&T in 1960, he was drafted by the franchise when it was based in Philadelphia. He played 11 seasons, during which the Warriors relocated to the Bay Area (first to San Francisco, then to Oakland).
Attles averaged 8.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists with the Warriors, playing alongside Hall of Fame teammates such as Wilt Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond and Rick Barry. In 1969, he was talked into a 30-game trial as the team’s player-coach by owner Franklin Mieuli, and stayed around to coach for 14 seasons.
In that time, Attles led the Warriors to the 1975 NBA championship with a sweep over the favored Washington Bullets. He became the second African-American head coach to win an NBA title, after Boston’s Bill Russell, and posted an overall record of 588-548 with six playoff appearances before moving into an executive position in 1983. He continues in an ambassador role.
“We did some math on the way over here,” said Rick Carlisle, president of the NBCA. “This is Al’s 57th year with the Warriors, which is just an amazing run. [We thought] Red Auerbach had to be close to that. Red came to Boston in 1950 and passed away in 2006. So as far as we know, Al is the longest tenured [employee] probably in the history of the NBA, probably in the history of all sports.”
“Any time you can win an award,” Attles said, “you won it based on what other people did.”
Attles’ nickname as a player was “The Destroyer,” owing to his fierce, physical style of play. Brown, seated on the same podium, shared a couple of stories related to that, including the time Chamberlain was being hyped as a potential challenger to boxing great Muhammad Ali on an old ABC “Wide World of Sports” telecast.
“[Howard Cosell said] ‘How could you challenge the No. 1 heavyweight champion?’ He’s going on and on and on,” Brown said. “And Wilt ... puts his hand up and says, ‘Howard, there’s only one guy that I would never fight. That happens to be The Destroyer, Al Attles.’”
Brown, 83, had been coaching high school basketball in Fair Lawn, N.J., when he met Daly – eventually a two-time championship coach with the Detroit Pistons but at the time an assistant coach at Duke – during a summer program for college prospects. In time Brown joined Daly at Duke under coach Vic Bubas, moved to the NBA as an assistant to the Milwaukee Bucks’ Larry Costello, then joined the ABA Kentucky Colonels as head coach for two seasons beginning in 1974-75. He led the Colonels to the ABA title that season.
After the ABA/NBA merger, Brown took over as Atlanta Hawks coach for five seasons, earning the league’s Coach of the Year trophy in 1978. He subsequently coached the New York Knicks for five years. He became one of the NBA’s most instructive broadcast analysts – and is announcing his 15th Finals this year – before being persuaded by league legend Jerry West to return to coaching, this time with Memphis in 2002.
In 2004, after guiding the Grizzlies to 50 victories and a playoff appearance, Brown again was named Coach of the Year – 26 years after winning the award the first time. That’s another achievement unique to NBA annals, perhaps to all pro sports.
The Daly award is presented annually by the National Basketball Coaches Association to a longtime coach honoring a “standard of integrity, competitive excellence and tireless promotion” of the game. It is named in honor of Daly, a popular sideline presence who also coached the Nets and the Magic, and led the Dream Team to an Olympic gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Games.
The inaugural winner in 2009 was Boston’s Tom Heinsohn, and other past winners include Jack Ramsay, Tex Winter, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley, Bill Fitch, Bernie Bickerstaff and Dick Motta.
Last year’s recipients were K.C. Jones and Jerry Sloan.
Kerr, whose decision to resume his sideline duties with Golden State was announced less than an hour before Attles and Brown were honored, congratulated both men.
“Al’s been a big presence for us the last couple years. Players enjoy his presence,” Kerr said. “Hubie’s been a friend for a long time, one of the great broadcasters as you guys know. Love listening to Hubie, still going strong.”
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