Hall of Famer Al Attles “Surprised” NBA Finals Have Not Had More Black Coaches

Al Attles, Warriors

Getty Al Attles, Warriors

The 1975 NBA Finals are best known for the completion of the Warriors’ stunning postseason run, which saw them knock off the vaunted and heavily favored Washington Bullets, the East champs who had won 60 games that season, in a sweep.

The series was the culmination of one of the great seasons in Golden State Warriors history. But on the sideline, something special happened, too: both coaches, Al Attles for the Warriors and K.J. Jones for the Bullets, were black. It was the first meeting of African-American coaches in a championship series in any major sport.

Speaking to Heavy.com, Attles reflected on that feat as he entered the Basketball Hall of Fame last week. Though it appears to have been a big moment in league history, Attles said his coaching matchup with Jones was met with a shrug.

“The thing about the reaction was, nobody said much about it,” Attles said. “There were some people who did not want to have black coaches in sports. But you know, the people who didn’t want that would not have been coming to the games anyway. What happened for K.C. and I was, in order to be a coach, you had to have the backing of your organization. We both had that.”

The NBA was Ahead of the Curve With Black Coaches

Attles and Jones were trailblazers in the mid-70s. But around other major sports, the issue of a lack of diversity in the ranks of coaches and front offices was a big problem. That would remain the case for decades in some sports.

By the time the 1975 Finals began, the first black manager in Major League Baseball, Frank Robinson, was only a month into his tenure with Cleveland as a player/manager. It was not until 1992 that Cito Gaston of the Blue Jays became the first black manager to win a championship.

The modern NFL would not have a black head coach until the Raiders hired Art Shell in 1992. In 2007, two African-American coaches, Lovie Smith of the Bears and Tony Dungy of the Colts, coached in the Super Bowl. Dungy became the first black coach to win a championship.

The first black head coach in the NHL was not hired until the Blackhawks brought in Dirk Graham in 1998.

Since 1975, No Other NBA Finals has Featured Two Black Coaches

Even with the NBA’s experience with black coaches, the accomplishment of Attles and Jones remains unique. The 1975 Finals remains the only time in league history that two black coaches squared off for the championship.

There have been other black coaches who won championships, starting with Bill Russell, who led the Celtics to championships in 1968 and 69. Lenny Wilkens led Seattle to a championship in 1979, and Jones would later win two titles with Boston, in 1984 and 86.

Doc Rivers won a championship in 2008 with the Celtics, and Tyronn Lue earned a ring in Cleveland in 2016.

“I am surprised,” Attles said. “I thought there would be other times (black coaches faced each other in the Finals). There have been a lot of good coaches over the years.”

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