Paul Silas, three-time NBA champion, longtime coach, dies at 79

Basketball taught Paul Silas to be patient.

As a player, he waited 10 years before winning his first championship. As a coach, he waited 15 years for a second chance to lead a team. As a father, he waited 20 years to see his son get the chance to lead a franchise.

“I’ve always tried to stay positive,” Silas said in 2013, “and I think that generally worked out.”

Silas — who touched the game as a player, coach and president of the National Basketball Players Association — has died, his family announced Sunday. Silas, whose son, Stephen Silas, coaches the Houston Rockets, was 79.

“He combined the knowledge developed over nearly 40 years as an NBA player and coach with an innate understanding of how to blend discipline with his endless positivity,” said Charlotte Hornets President Michael Jordan. “On or off the pitch, Paul is enthusiastic and enthusiastic. The engaging personality was accompanied by an anecdote for every occasion. He was one of the greatest people in our game, and he will be missed.

Silas’ daughter, Paula Silas-Guy, told The New York Times that her father died of cardiac arrest on Saturday night. The Boston Globe first reported Silas’ death.

“We mourn the passing of former NBA All-Star and head coach Paul Silas,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “Paul’s lasting contributions to the game can be seen through the many players and coaches he inspired, including his son, Rockets head coach Stephen Silas. We send our deepest condolences to Paul’s family.

Tributes began to arrive quickly. New Orleans had a moment of silence for Silas before his game with Phoenix on Sunday, and Suns coach Monty Williams and Charlotte coach Steve Clifford spoke at length about Silas’ role in their careers.

“For my family, he is a God. He’s larger than life,” Clifford said.

Silas began his career as a head coach with a three-year stint in charge of the San Diego Clippers beginning in 1980. After spending more than a decade as an assistant, he returned to coaching- chef and spent time with the Charlotte Hornets, New Orleans Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Bobcats.

He took four of those teams to the playoffs, winning exactly 400 games — 387 in the regular season, 13 more in the playoffs.

The Rockets hosted Milwaukee on Sunday night. It was not immediately clear how long Stephen Silas would be out of the squad; the Rockets planned to have John Lucas lead the team on an interim basis while the Silas family mourned.

“His engaging presence and big personality have inspired legions of NBA players and coaches,” the Cavaliers said of Paul Silas in a team statement. “We send our deepest condolences to the Silas family and all who loved him.”

Stephen Silas entered the NBA world when his father was coaching in Charlotte, starting as a forward scout and eventually serving as an assistant on his father’s team with the Hornets in 2000. It took Stephen Silas two decades to get the chance to be a head coach, that to come when Houston hired him in 2020.

“My dad, obviously, he was my #1 mentor, someone I could lean on, ask questions and he asked me questions,” Stephen Silas said in a 2021 documentary produced by the Rockets on his coaching journey. “He really appreciated my opinion, which was a little weird for me, me being so young and not having much experience.”

Stephen Silas persevered for a long time before getting his big break. He saw his father waiting a long time for the job he also wanted. Paul Silas was fired by the San Diego Clippers in 1983 and wouldn’t have another head coaching opportunity until 1999 – coming when Dave Cowens, for whom Paul Silas was an assistant, resigned in Charlotte after a departure from 4-11 for the shortened 1998-99 season.

“I stayed positive. I had a positive attitude,” Paul Silas told the Rotary Club of Charlotte during a 2013 speech. “Even though I couldn’t get the job, I said, ‘No, I’m not going to. be negative. “I’m going to be positive.”

Eventually, Silas would take over in Cleveland. He got there in 2003, the same year the Cavaliers drafted James.

“I coached LeBron for two years, his first two years, and LeBron was amazing,” Paul Silas said. “At 18 he knew Bill Russell, he knew a lot of players who went through most players his age don’t even know. And he understood the game.”

In time, James would become a champion. It took a few years for Paul Silas to reach this level as a player as well.

He was a five-time All-Defensive selection that averaged 9.4 points and 9.9 rebounds in 16 seasons with the St. Louis Hawks and Atlanta, Phoenix, Boston, Denver and Seattle. Silas won two titles with the Celtics – the first in his 10th season as a player – and won a third with the SuperSonics. At 36, he was the oldest player in the NBA when he retired. And as union president, Silas oversaw a period of growing rosters, rising wages and improving benefits.

“Respected by all who met him throughout the NBA, we are grateful for his contributions to the game throughout his basketball life,” the Suns said Sunday.

Paul Silas played college basketball at Creighton, averaging 20.5 points and 21.6 rebounds in three seasons. He was elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.

Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said: “His illustrious playing and coaching career will be matched by few.”


AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed.


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