As the 2017 NBA Finals tipped off on June 1, two names you may hear mentioned at least once during the broadcasts are Al Attles and KC Jones. Most fans of this younger generation of basketball players may not know exactly who those men are, but for historians of the sport those names mentioned together are certainly meaningful.
In 1975, Attles coached the Golden State Warriors and KC Jones, a former Boston Celtics great, coached the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals as African-American coaches—a first. With Warriors coach Steve Kerr out indefinitely with a hurt back, his assistant coach and former Cavs head coach Mike Brown leads the Warriors as its acting coach versus second-year Cavs coach Tyronn Lue– in only the second instance of dueling Black coaches in league history.
Golden State Warriors interim head coach Mike Brown answers questions during a press conference after Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday, June 1, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Brown will try to add his name to the list of African-American coaches to win a NBA championship. He would join Bill Russell (Boston Celtics 1968-69), Attles (Warriors, 1975), Jones (Celtics, 1984, 1986), Lenny Wilkens (Seattle SuperSonics, 1979), Doc Rivers (Boston, 2008) and Lue (Cavaliers, 2016).
Brown has also been here before, ironically coaching LeBron James in his first finals appearance 10 years ago in 2007. Along with being the Cavs’ coach for four seasons before being let go after the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to accomplish back-to-back 60-plus win seasons and not advance to the NBA Finals, he also coached the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2011-12 campaign.
Lue’s ascension to the head gig in Cleveland was an arduous one as he became one of Doc Rivers’ top assistants in Boston as soon as his 11-year career ended in 2009. He was an assistant on the Celtics’ title winning team in 2009 and stayed there through the entirety of Rivers’ tenure and even followed Rivers to Los Angeles to be the head assistant with the Clippers in 2014. He became a hot commodity in the coaching community and in the following offseason, he was courted and signed by Cleveland to become the associate head coach for new Cavs coach David Blatt.
Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue answers questions during a press conference after Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors Thursday, June 1, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
With Blatt and star player LeBron James not on the same page, Blatt was fired midway through last season and Lue took over. And, the team flourished. The Cavaliers won their first NBA Championship, with Lue becoming the second rookie coach in consecutive seasons to win it all, the third person to become champion as a mid-season replacement coach (after Paul Westhead in 1979–80 and Pat Riley in 1981–82, also in his rookie coaching season), and the 14th person to win an NBA championship as a head coach and player.
There are currently eight Black coaches in the NBA– a league consisting of approximately 75 percent Black players: Lue, Rivers, Nate McMillan (Indiana Pacers), David Fizdale (Memphis Grizzlies), Jason Kidd (Milwaukee Bucks), Alvin Gentry (New Orleans Pelicans), Dwane Casey (Toronto Raptors) and Earl Watson (Phoenix Suns). As we all watch these games, let us celebrate the contributions of the competing Black coaches while also realizing there is still a long way to go for true representation on the coaching side in not just the NBA, but all major professional sports.
Dion J. Johnson – Editor In Chief
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