The Warriors' '73-'74 season ended with a series of calamities, and when it was over, Mieuli, beaten and depressed, hired Dick Vertlieb to be his general manager. Then Mieuli stood back out of the way and watched as the new man unloaded Thurmond for Ray, a draft choice and cash. Then, one way or another, Cazzie Russell, Clyde Lee and Jim Barnett were gone, too, and Jeff Mullins was hurt. What remained at the beginning of last year appeared to be the leftovers. But together with the draft, they were, in fact, the heart of the artichoke, Attles' team: young, fast, bright, willing and lots of them.
Probably no man ever felt as ambivalent as Franklin Mieuli did when this team of his won the league title last spring. It was, on the one hand, the culmination of his dreams. He carted the NBA trophy around in his car, showing it off for his old buddies to see. But the championship, coming as it did in the very year he gave up management of the team, could also be read as his repudiation—and his friend Thurmond's, too. As generous as he is, no one has ever heard Mieuli utter a complimentary word about the new front office regime. Having someone else do it meant, in the end, that only the shadow of Utopia fell upon him.
Vertlieb understands Mieuli. Mieuli gave him his chance to get back into the NBA, but if Mieuli cannot in his heart ever really relinquish his Warriors to another man, Vertlieb can appreciate the emotions involved. Vertlieb had been general manager at Seattle, but in 1973 he was an investment counselor and looking for some way to return to the sport. He found an angel willing to buy an NBA team, and he went after the Warriors. He met with Mieuli in a hotel room. As usual, Golden State was losing money. Mieuli's partners were looking to get out. Vertlieb asked him to name a price, and Mieuli named a high one.
Vertlieb went into an adjoining room and telephoned his backer. " Franklin wants $X million," he said. "It's high but O.K. Why don't you add a million more? Then he can't say no." The angel agreed.
Vertlieb came back. Mieuli was sure he had priced him out. "All right," said Vertlieb. "You want X. We'll give you X and a million more."
The blood drained out of Mieuli's face. Terrified, he shook his head and almost ran from the room. He said, "I'm sorry. I can't sell my children."
While there is not between them the mutual affection that exists between Attles and Mieuli, Attles and Vertlieb share a common thread in their backgrounds. Attles went to Weequahic High in Newark, N.J., which was overwhelmingly Jewish; Philip Roth grew up as Portnoy there. Through elementary school, Vertlieb lived in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, abutting Watts, where he engaged in playground sports. Both he and Attles may be described as upwardly mobile; they proceeded.
Only a series of flukes brought Attles into the NBA. He was an unknown fifth-round draft choice from North Carolina A&T at a time when few second-round picks made the league and blacks stuck only if they could start and had big-college-name value. Attles would not even have gone to preseason camp if he had not given up a teaching job when he was drafted and then was caught with nothing to do when the service tagged him 1Y because of a slight injury. At the Warrior camp he had to beat out a handsome local Philadelphia hero, one Pickles Kennedy, to make the team. Attles asked for $7,500 and settled for $5,500. He has now been a member of the same NBA squad for 16 straight seasons.
Al Attles is the soul of stability. He had played in the Bay Area for a decade before he stopped thinking of Newark as his home—and only then, he says, because he realized that his son was growing up in California and so California really must be his home.
Vertlieb's history is not dissimilar, at least in terms of determination and perseverance: