Commercials are Al Attles’ new `game’


MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL: December 3, 2010

He’s the voice of experience. Mature and confident. You get the sense that his mettle has been tested in every arena.

Meet Al Attles, the voice behind a new series of Toyota truck commercials. It’s the same Al Attles who played 11 seasons for the Warriors, then coached them to an NBA title in 1975. In the world of advertising, as in basketball, he’s still got game.

Attles kicks back in his Oakland hills home and talks about voicing commercials with the same storytelling flair he uses to share memories of basketball icons like Wilt Chamberlain and Franklin Mieuli. “Sometimes in your life you make decisions that work out, well, unbelievable.”

A simple decision like taking BART to the city for the Toyota taping — it was the day of the Giants’ World Series victory parade and traffic was snarled — makes him grin. “I told myself, I said ‘Alvin, you’re not very bright, but this time you were.'”

With a modesty that’s endearing, Attles seems like a man who has settled comfortably into his life and, remarkably, his 51st year with the Warriors. And while his job as ambassador seems tailor-made for the man, his early days with the Philadelphia Warriors weren’t exactly a perfect fit.

“In those days, there were just eight teams,” he says. They were predicated on local star systems which meant most of the Warriors were from their hometown of Philly. Attles was an outsider from Newark — 96 miles away.

“As a rookie, in Philadelphia, I was the only player in camp without a contract. The owner, Eddie Gottlieb, thought my chances were so slim that he gave me a uniform with the armpits down to my waist.”

Attles speaks softly and with reverence when he talks about the Warriors’ principal owner from 1962-86, Franklin Mieuli, who died last spring.

“If I look at my career,” he says, “the person who hands down is responsible for any way I’ve risen is Franklin Mieuli.”

Mieuli hired Attles as only the second African-American coach in NBA history and gave him complete reign. He tells the story of asking Mieuli what he thought about his plan for how the team should be structured before the 1975 season.

“I said ‘Mr. Mieuli, we’re going to have 10 blacks and two Caucasians.’ ” He waited for Mieuli’s reaction.

“You’d have thought I’d cut off his head,” Attles recalls. “He took his fist and pounded it on the desk and I’m sitting down and I’m thinking ‘what’s wrong with him?’ He screamed ‘Alvin, don’t you know me? Then why would you ask me a question like that? I don’t care what color the players are. You take the best 12 players you can get and formulate your team and I’ll back you 100 percent.’ ”

That season the Warriors won the NBA championship.

But long before fate brought Attles to the Warriors, there were people looking out for him. His parents, his teachers and his high school coach, who sent him to Jewish summer camp seven years in a row. “He didn’t ask me to go to camp, he told me to go to camp,” he says. “He didn’t want me in the city environment in the summer.”

Attles admits he had a temper in his younger days that he worked hard to keep in check. But during his years as head coach of the Warriors (1973-86) he found a rather unconventional, if not noisy, way to blow off steam — sometimes for hours. “I had a music room in the basement and I’d close the door and beat on the drums,” he says, adding his wife, Wilhelmina, would have to reassure the children he was OK.

These days, a more joyful noise emanates from the Attles’ home. It’s the sound of Attles cooking for his four grandchildren when they spend the night. He calls them to breakfast and if they don’t come, he calls them a second time. “Then my voice gets a little lower and more intimidating,” he says with a smile.

Call it the art of persuasion. At 74, Attles still has it.

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