Paul Silas, three-time NBA champion, longtime coach, dies at 79
Paul Silas, a member of three NBA championship teams as a player and LeBron James’ first coach in the league, has died, his family announced Sunday. He was 79 years old.
The family disclosed the death through the Houston Rockets, for whom Silas’ son Stephen is a second-generation head coach. No official cause was immediately announced.
“Our deepest thoughts are with Stephen and his family during this difficult time,” the Rockets said in a statement.
Paul 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 head coach 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.
“Paul made a huge contribution to basketball and he will be sorely missed!” The Hall of Fame guard and Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson wrote on Twitter.
RIP to Hall of Famer, three-time NBA champion and my guy Paul Silas. Paul made a huge contribution to basketball and he will be sorely missed! Cookie and I send our prayers and condolences to the entire Silas family 🙏🏾❤️
—Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) December 11, 2022
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.
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 would not have had another head coaching opportunity until 1999 – coming when Dave Cowens, for whom Paul Silas was an assistant, resigned in Charlotte after a departure 4-11 in the shortened 1998-99 season.
“I was known for not being a hard, hard, tough worker and it really hurt me when I was an assistant coach, for about 10 years, when I couldn’t get a manager position,” said said Paul Silas at the Rotary Club of Charlotte while in 2013. “I really talked to the teams about being a head coach, but I didn’t get any. What happened was I’m stayed positive. I had a positive attitude. 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’ve been there that most players his age don’t even know. And he understood the game. I made LeBron a point/forward because I didn’t “I didn’t have any when he started. He didn’t say a word to me. He just picked up the game and we did well.”
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. He averaged 12.8 points and 13.8 rebounds in the 1976 Finals for Boston against the Suns.
“Paul Silas was a basketball giant”, former NBA player Rex Chapman wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Great man. Had a chance to spend a few seasons with Paul when he was Suns (assistant) coach. I don’t know anyone who has a bad word to say about him – ever. A sad day.”
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.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Creighton legend Paul Silas,” the Bluejays coach said. Greg McDermott said. “His illustrious playing and coaching career will be matched by few.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.