The plan coming out of North Carolina A&T was to be a teacher. Al Attles had even accepted a job, at a junior high school in his hometown of Newark, N.J. Build a career Monday through Friday, play basketball in the Eastern League on weekends.
The NBA? Hardly. Attles was so sure how that was going to turn out that when he went to Hershey, Pa., for training camp with the Philadelphia Warriors, the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 1960, 39th overall, he packed for one week. He was sure he wouldn’t last any longer.
He lasted longer.
Attles backed out of the junior-high job in Newark because he thought he was going into the military, joined the Warriors and never left. Literally never left. The franchise relocated from Philadelphia to the San Francisco Bay Area, ownership changed hands many times, he has switched jobs a few times, but that expectation of one week in the NBA has turned into the reality of nearly 53 years in the league.
“Here it is, many, many, many years later, and I’m still getting a pay check from an NBA team,” he said. “I have to shake my head.”
Not only that, he’s receiving it from the same team, a Warrior in 2013 just as he was in 1960.
Attles, as a player, was known as “The Destroyer” for his hard-nosed approach in 11 seasons of 8.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 711 games, fifth-most in franchise history. Attles the coach was known as a champion, running the sideline for the only title in the club’s West Coast era that began in 1962-63, the 1975 Finals win over Washington. His 13 years as coach resulted in six playoff berths in all, two division crowns, the best mark in franchise history (59-23 in 1975-76) and two All-Star games.
Attles then served as general manager for three more seasons, and still the connection didn’t end. He became part of the community relations department and a popular connection between the team and the Bay Area, eventually to have the current title of Ambassador with another former Warrior, Nate Thurmond.
“Things just kind of worked out,” Attles said. “I’m a big believer in being in the right place at the right time.”
He would have gone to a different high school in Newark if he lived across the street, but ended up at Weequahic and with the basketball coach who would become one of the biggest positive influences of Attles’ young life.
He had the opportunity to attend bigger colleges closer to home – Seton Hall, St. John’s, NYU – but chose North Carolina A&T despite never having been farther south than Washington and being concerned about how an African-American would be treated. He believed the people at A&T were genuinely concerned about his education and liked the idea of a smaller campus having smaller classrooms and better interaction with teachers. The same Attles who wandered through high school academically made honor roll at the Greensboro, N.C., campus.
And then the ultimate intersection of opportunity: Being drafted by the Warriors.
Those kind of right places at the right time.
Golden State retired his No. 16, one of six players in team history to be so honored. He was inducted in the Bay Area Hall of Fame in 1993. And in 2006, a newly refurbished outdoor court in his adopted hometown of Oakland was renamed Alvin Attles Court.