Pro basketball's Al Attles didn't exactly end his coaching career in a blaze of glory. But to judge Attles by merely examining the Golden State Warriors' 30 -52 record would be a serious mistake, for he was unique. As a coach, Attles was a man with rare staying power and class.
Initially selected as the team's interim coach in 1970, he wound up serving 14 years as the Warrior bench boss before resigning at the end of the current season. That is the longest uninterrupted tenure of any active NBA coach.
When the Newark, N.J., native took over the Warrior reins, he was the first first full-time black coach in any big league sport (Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens preceded him in the NBA, but as player/coaches). It was quite a plum for a former fifth-round draft pick, who spent his entire 11-year playing career with the Warriors, first in Philadelphia and later in the Bay Area. A journeyman guard nicknamed ''The Destroyer'' for his aggressive defense, he had the misfortune of turning in a perfect offensive game (8-for-8 from the field) the night teammate Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points.
Soon after Attles became the team's coach, he started turning things around. A string of seven winning seasons was begun in 1971-72, with a .720 winning percentage highlighting the streak in 1975-76. The crowning achievement, however,occurred at the end of the previous season, when the young Warriors swept the veteran-laden Washington Bullets in the NBA championship series. Attles's freewheeling substitutions became something of a success model for other clubs.
Golden State has struggled recently, with only one winning season in its last five. But through it all, Al has maintained a high standard of integrity. The tough guy image of his playing days has long been a thing of the past for this ''Mister Nice Guy.'' Which isn't to say the team's new general manager isn't still a battler, just that he brings kid gloves with him. Last season he was assessed just four technical fouls, well behind Kevin Loughery's league-leading 40. Pressure mounts on Akeem
A month after the college basketball finals, runner-up Houston and its sophomore center, Akeem Olajuwon, are still hot topics in Texas. The Cougars generated a lot of excitement with their dunk-punctuated 31-3 season, which earned them a reputation as Phi Slama Jama, Texas's Tallest Fraternity.
But now the Houston faithful holds its collective breath, waiting to see if Akeem and junior Clyde Drexler will stick around or decide to turn pro. Some observers expect them to jump before a new NBA contract, which will put the clamps on rookie salaries, goes into effect.
The seven-foot Olajuwon, a Nigerian, would need a special working visa to go pro, but any team would love to do the paper work. The Houston Rockets are especially eager to get him, which sets up an intriguing college/pro division in the city. The Rockets may wind up with the NBA's first pick, depending on the outcome of a coin flip with Indiana, the league's other conference cellar dweller. And even if the Rockets lose the toss, they would have the second and third selections because of a complex trade.
The deadline for declaring one's pro intentions is May 14.Olajuwon has said he's waiting to see what Drexler does, since he likes playing with the high-flying forward.
If Akeem does stay in school, another big decision still lies ahead. Nigeria surely will want him in uniform when the African Championships, which determine that continent's Olympic qualifiers, are held next December. Houston, on the other hand, probably wouldn't want him taking a mid-season leave of absence. Touching other bases
* Duke University obviously feels it has a potential All-American quarterback in Ben Bennett. Why else would the school put out a 16-page booklet on Bennett to accompany a more modest spring football prospectus? If Ben can equal his junior output of 3,033 passing yards, he would break Jim McMahon's NCAA Division I career record of 9,536 yards. His chances for national recognition will be enhanced by the loss of many quality quarterbacks to the pro ranks. Duke, however, has produced only three consensus All-Americans, the last being defensive back Ernie Jackson in 1971.
* The pro basketball playoffs have historically been the time for teams to knuckle down and play their best defense. But that's not exactly what hapened earlier this week, when the San Antonio Spurs beat the Denver Nuggets 152-133 to set an NBA playoff record for most points by both teams.
* One-way glass backboards may eventually find their way into college basketball. The idea, says rules committee spokesman Ed Steitz, is to find boards that screen out the distracting background for players while allowing spectators a clear view of the action.