In this edition of Al Remembers, Al Attles looks back on the 1974-75 Championship team. He discusses the role that three rookies, Jamaal Wilkes, Phil Smith and Frank Kendrick, played during that season and the similarities between those players and the three rookies that the Warriors are bringing in this year.
Heading into the 1974-75 season, we knew we had some pretty good players. We had just missed the playoffs by one game the year before, but we lost about seven or eight players from the previous season for various reasons. So the overall expectations for the team were not great. Don't get me wrong, we had some good players like Rick Barry, Clifford Ray, Butch Beard, Charlie Johnson, Derrek Dickey, George Johnson, and of course my teammate and good friend Jeff Mullins, too.
But I think that the key to that season was that our three rookies, Jamaal Wilkes, Phil Smith and Frank Kendrick, all played much better than expected. The rookies were really the catalyst that got us going. I knew they were very good players, but I was always reluctant to put too much pressure on rookies. What you really expect from young players, and what I expected from those three guys, was that they come in and make a contribution to your team.
In training camp, you could see that we were going to be a much better basketball team than OTHER people thought we were going to be. I was not so naive to say that we were going to end up winning the championship, but I knew we were going to be better than people gave us credit for. We got off to a great start in preseason, I think 5-0, and what happened was that the confidence level started to change. I was able to play a lot of people and work in the new guys. That made us better.
The best thing that any team can have is competition, and by that I mean competition amongst its own players for playing time. When you have competition, you get the best out of everybody because they are competing to save their jobs. Regardless of who the player is that's coming in, whether it's a rookie or someone coming from another team, no one wants to be beaten out for playing time or have to sit on the bench. So the best times I had as a coach that year, were our practices, because these guys went at each other in practice every single day.
That competition in practice made us better. And that is one of the biggest things that I can see these new players coming in now providing. Jason Richardson, Troy Murphy and Gilbert Arenas will create competition for the guys who are already here, and that will hopefully make the team as a whole better. No one wants to lose their spot to anyone, but even more so when it's a young guy coming in.
For a player like Jamaal, it was just business as usual. He had won at UCLA so it wasn't anything new for him to come in and play a lot and perform well. Of course, both Phil and Frank won in college too. None of them came in with cockiness, but they certainly had confidence. And I think that confidence spilled over to the rest of the team and carried onto the floor.
The three rookies blended into our team very quickly and very well. The main reason for that was because of Clifford Ray, who is really overlooked when people look back at that season. He was the glue that kept the whole thing together. What I mean is that there are certain players who I like to call "coach's helpers". They are able to keep both sides, young and old, together. Rick was Rick, he was our superstar. But the young players didn't really know him, and Clifford was able to create a bond with the young guys and help them come together with the veterans. The thing about those rookies, and the team as a whole for that matter, was that they only had one thing on their minds, and that was to win basketball games.
I don't usually let my emotions get to me, but that year I was a little upset because we were still big underdogs in the Western Conference Finals even though we won our division and had the best record. It always kind of amazed me that even though we had home court advantage over Chicago, we were still not favored. Well, as it turns out, we lost a big game at home and had to go back to Chicago down 3-2 in the series.
The team was in a bit of shock and didn't know where we were headed, and all I kept preaching was to make sure we got back home. All we wanted to do was win one in Chicago and take the series back home. I still remember the game like it was yesterday, we fell behind by nine points in the first quarter and it was like "It's over."
But the team was very resilient. They never believed what people said about them - good or bad - which I thought was terrific. They believed in themselves and they believed in each other. We found a way to pull it out and get back home, and the next thing you know we are down 16 points in the first half at home in Game 7. But we found a way to pull it out. I think every coach should have the opportunity to go through a situation with a team like that because you could see there was something about them - you could see it in their eyes -that they never believed they were out of games.
We had a lot of players who played a lot of minutes. And the competition that we had amongst our own players caused them to always be prepared and be in to games mentally even when they weren't on the floor. We found a way to use everyone and keep everyone sharp and in shape. Eventually we just beat teams down with our depth.
And the rookies were a big part of that. From day one, they knew they could play basketball at the NBA level. And I'm sure they often looked at me and thought they should be playing more than they were playing. But I had a lot of guys on that team who I thought deserved to play and I always thought it wasn't important who started the game, but who played and who finished. Often times our rookies were in there during crucial situations because they could play. I didn't put any extra pressure on the rookies, but they put pressure on themselves and lived up to their own expectations. We were very fortunate to get three guys who loved basketball and who were great young people, and we had a great time with them.
Its hard for me to compare that season and those rookies to this year and the new crop of guys coming in, Jason Richardson, Troy Murphy and Gilbert Arenas. I am the kind of person who doesn't make comparisons lightly, and I know that sometimes appearances can be deceiving. I'm a show-me kind of guy, not a tell-me. So I don't want to say that these three rookies that the Warriors have coming in this year are going to have the same impact that those three guys had on our championship team. But that doesn't mean that other people aren't going to say it.
I received a call from Phil Smith the other day. I think there are only a few people who I've ever been around that take basketball more seriously than Phil Smith. There are only a couple guys who you can say basketball is their life, and Phil is one of them. So when he talks about basketball, I listen to him. He doesn't joke about it, and he doesn't say things without meaning them. Well he was able to go watch the Warriors at the Summer Pro League recently in LA, and he was raving about the rookies.
He actually said something that made me stand back and take notice. He said, "These three youngsters remind me of the three rookies that we had when we won the championship."
Now he's not saying that the Warriors are going to win a championship this year, but what he meant was that there are quite a few similarities. The young guys all come from solid college backgrounds and they all have a confidence in themselves and their abilities. They are going to come in and compete, just as he and Jamaal and Frank did. And that competition will make the current Warrior veterans better, just like it made the veterans on the 1974-75 team better.
I'm very encouraged by that. I just hope they continue down that path and continue to make themselves and everyone else better.