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Vertlieb was a big-time big-bucks broker at Merrill Lynch in L.A., but since the market closed at 12:30 on the Coast, he became an assistant coach at USC, then head coach at a prep school. Next he decided he had to get into sports full-time. His friend Richman, a writer and producer of commercials who had helped run the old AFL Los Angeles Chargers, agreed to come in as the general manager if they could buy a team. Just to get into the act, Vertlieb was satisfied to be the business manager, to handle all the details and dirt. Richman was the front man, and Vertlieb always pushed him out there as soon as he chased down an angel. "I'm not kiddin' you," he says. "I would go across the street if I saw a rich man, and stop him and say, 'How would you like to own a basketball team?' "
At various times, Vertlieb and Richman almost had three teams, but, finally, in 1967, Vertlieb found Gene Klein and Sam Schulman, who owned the San Diego Chargers, and the Seattle deal was made. Next year when Richman scurried back to L.A., Schulman settled for Vertlieb as the new general manager, but he never really accepted him. Vertlieb was the guy from the back office who drank his whiskey from shot glasses, whose tie always seemed to be knotted just where Schulman's friends' shirts were monogrammed. The arrangement never took. Vertlieb quit and went back to the game where they divide dollars into eighths. But right away he began looking for another high roller who might be willing to shoot for a hard-way six and buy him another NBA team to run.
One morning he heard that a guy named Harry Glickman, who owned the expansion rights to Portland, was having a little problem, liquidity-wise. So Vertlieb called up one of his clients, a construction magnate named Herman Sarkowsky, and asked him if he was interested in a deal. Sarkowsky said what the hell. They got on a plane and went to Portland. At lunch Sarkowsky learned that this particular deal was an NBA team. He listened to the details, told Glickman what piece he would take and then beckoned for a phone.
Sarkowsky spoke to his office in L.A.: "How much in CDs we got on hand...? Good, O.K., listen to me. You take 500,000 of them and go to the Century Plaza and look up a guy named Kennedy. Uh, Walter Kennedy. All right, you give this Kennedy guy the 500,000. Hurry, I'll tell you later what we bought."
And so, baby, do they buy franchises in the NBA. But for his trouble, Vertlieb got only more brokerage business from Sarkowsky; he did not get the Portland basketball job. He didn't find his way back into the league for five years, until Mieuli turned to him. The fantasy that followed stunned everyone—Barry, for example, couldn't conceive that the Warriors could win until they were ahead in the finals—but Vertlieb not only admits to his surprise but also to his personal incompetence. It is his style to do that, to play the buffoon.
Don Richman says, "Richie has great rapport with athletes and coaches, and it's my lay opinion that much of this comes because he constantly denigrates himself. He's a throwback, you know—really a very colorful guy. But he works hard at not appearing colorful. All his life he has played this game of not being as sharp as he lets on. Don't let Richie kid you. He knew Thurmond was through, and when you come down to it, that's why they won the championship."
While Barry is certainly the mainstay of the Warriors, Ray, who came from Chicago for Thurmond, sets the tempo for the club. It is obvious enough that Barry and Jeff Mullins are the only white players, but this obscures the pertinent fact that they are also the only two guys on the team over the age of 27. The other Warriors average less than 25. Thus Ray, with five years in the league and all of 27 years old, seems almost venerable to some of the kids. He plays only about half a game, but his example of spirit is enormously pervasive.
No man reveals more of himself in the introductions than Clifford Ray. Announced, he rockets from the bench and in three huge purposeful steps he crashes to the foul line to join the other starters. A dark, menacing-looking man, long-bearded and strangely hunched, Ray resembles a great buffalo. By contrast George Johnson, his replacement at center, is pale, thin and long, with a fluffy Afro like the glorious comb of some bird. Johnson suddenly appears: a crane swooping into play. The sudden change from buffalo to bird discombobulates many opposing centers; the Warrior players believe that only one team in the NBA properly defenses its big men.
There are, then, some advantages to being faceless. "I'll bet there are many teams that just don't have any idea how to guard, say, Derrek Dickey or Charles Dudley," Mullins says. The Warriors, at practice on the road, have laughed to discover that the opposing teams have left diagrams of Golden State plays up on the blackboard—and got the plays all wrong.
The Warrior guards are the least noticed. None was a college celebrity, none a first draft choice. Attles helps them out by calling most plays from the bench. Of all the Warriors, Dudley, the fourth guard, is most like the portrait of the coach as young man. Like Attles in his salad days, Dudley has a high forehead, and a clear, open face and, like his coach, he had to struggle. He is known as Hopper, from the TV Kung Fu character.