SAN FRANCISCO – Al Attles was not born to brawl. No need to. The diesel-truck rumble of his voice and his ability to summon a petrifying glare are weapons that enable him to issue warnings without needing a fist.
Understand, Attles will not dodge a battle, but he must be threatened to fully engage. The former Warriors player, coach and executive, fights only in case of emergency. Once activated, he has no quit.
Emergency confronted Attles a couple years ago, not long after he turned 80. One surgery led to another, then another. And, finally, a fourth. The threat was real.
“He had multiple surgeries and his doctors told us all along that when someone is in their 80s, multiple surgeries take a toll,” Alvin Attles III said Tuesday night, hours after the Warriors unveiled practice courts at Chase Center bearing his name: Alvin Attles Courts.
During his 60 years of employment with the franchise, from Philadelphia to San Francisco to Oakland and, now, back to San Francisco, Attles has been the embodiment of dignity with the humility of an earthly servant. His number was retired in 1977 and raised to the rafters. And now his name is inscribed in a place where it can be seen every day by every player taking the court. He has, at the very least, earned that much.
The best sight of the day was Attles himself, shaking hands, slapping backs and cracking wise.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” he said a few hours later, over the phone. “If somebody had told me when I was in college that things would turn out the way they have, I would have told them they had to be joking. It’s been a nice trip. I have nothing to complain about.”
Less than three weeks after being inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the 82-year-old was strolling about Chase Center asking folks for money just to grant himself the joy of observing their puzzled reactions.
Attles said a few words -- mostly self-deprecating -- of appreciation to a group of 60 or 70 Warriors employees that had gathered for the occasion. His presence was inspirational, in general, but particularly so given his two-year journey.
“He wasn’t eating, and now we can’t stop him from eating,” Attles III said. “He wasn’t talking, and now we can’t stop him from talking. He’s walking and he has regained his range of motion.
“But he came back from a very grave place.”
There were moments when Attles’ family was deeply concerned about his recovery, even as they knew he would not surrender, no matter the darkness of the day.
Attles’ fight consumed so much of his energy that his reserved seat at the top of the lower bowl of Oracle Arena was empty for long stretches. He was in and of hospitals and rehab centers. There was an aura of mystery as his family maintained, as he wished a measure of privacy.
Attles lost about 40 percent of his body weight. Attacking his rehab with the ferocity he once exhibited as a player and coach, and regaining his appetite, he has over the past few months regained most of those pounds. When he arrived at the team’s Oakland facility in June to present an award to Steph Curry, Attles had use of a cane and often leaned on his son.
No cane on Tuesday. Not much leaning, either. Attles the younger was free to mingle and watch from a distance as his dad owned the floor bearing his name.
Attles was the coach of the 1974-75 Warriors, who won the first championship after the franchise relocated to the Bay Area from Philly in 1962. His 557 wins are the most by any Warriors coach (Steve Kerr is third, with 322; Don Nelson is second with 422). After 13 seasons on the bench, Attles spent three more years as the team’s general manager.
For the last 30 years, throughout the highs and lows of the franchise, he has been the most revered man in the building simply by being worthy of reverence. The legend lives by never compromising his credibility.
“You have to be honest with what you do, and what you don’t do,” he said. “The reason for that is if you do something and don’t live up to it, nobody wants to deal with you. It’s the same if you don’t do something after you said you would. But if people know you’re telling them the truth, they’ll always deal with you.”
After two years fighting to regain his health, Attles has experienced some triumphs. The fight continues, as it does for everyone, and there is no chance of Attles backing down.
“He has bounced back in a way that makes us all really happy,” Attles III said. “And I can’t say that we all expected him to recover so well.”
Attles the elder wanted to make something clear: He plans to attend games at Chase Center when the NBA season starts next month.
“Absolutely,” he said, breaking into laughter. “I know I’m old, but I’ll get there.”