Basketball taught Paul Silas how 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 manage a team. As a father, he waited 20 years before seeing his son get the chance to lead a franchise.
“I always tried to stay positive, and I think it usually worked,” Silas said in 2013.
Silas, who touched the game as a player, coach and president of the National Basketball Players Association, was announced Sunday by his family. Silas, whose son Stephen Silas is the coach of the Houston Rockets, was 79 years old.
“He combined knowledge developed over nearly 40 years as an NBA player and coach with an innate understanding of how to blend discipline with its never-ending positivity,” said Charlotte Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan. “On or off the field, Paul’s enthusiastic and charismatic personality accompanied his anecdote on every occasion. He was one of the greatest people in our game, and we will miss him.”
Silas’ daughter, Paula Silas Jay, told The New York Times that her father died Saturday night of cardiac arrest. The Boston Globe first reported Silas’ death.
“We regret the passing of NBA star and coach Paul Silas,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “Paul’s lasting contributions to the game have been seen through the many players and coaches he has inspired, including his son, Rockets head coach Stephen Silas. We send our deepest condolences to Paul’s family.”
Tributes started arriving quickly. Moments of silence before the game were held in New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York and Houston among other places, and Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams and Charlotte coach Steve Clifford were among those who spoke at length about Silas’ role in their careers.
“To my family, he’s a god. He’s larger than life,” Clifford said.
Paul Silas began his career as a head coach with a three-year stint with the then San Diego Clippers starting in 1980. After spending over a decade as an assistant, he returned to the head coaching position and spent time with the Charlotte Hornets, New Orleans Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Charlotte Bobcats .
He led four of those teams to the playoffs, winning exactly 400 games – 387 in the regular season, and 13 in the postseason.
“He’s probably one of the greatest humans I’ve ever had,” LeBron James told Spectrum SportsNet after the Los Angeles Lakers defeated Detroit Sunday night. “My journey in this league began with him. His will, his principles, his attention to detail and his love of family… It was very sad to hear this news.”
The Rockets hosted Milwaukee on Sunday night, winning, 97-92. It was not immediately clear how long Stephen Silas would be away from the team. Rockets assistant coach John Lucas takes over the team on an interim basis while the Silas family grieves.
“His charismatic presence and outsized personality have inspired legions of NBA players and coaches,” the Cavaliers said of Paul Silas in a statement released by the team. We send our deepest condolences to Silas’ family and everyone who loved him. Rest in power coach! “
Stephen Silas entered the world of the NBA while his father was coaching in Charlotte, starting as an advanced scout and eventually serving as an assistant on his father’s staff with the Hornets in 2000. It took Stephen Silas two decades to get the chance to be a head coach, and that came When Houston hired him in 2020.
“Obviously my dad was my number one mentor, someone I could count on and ask questions and ask me questions,” Stephen Silas said in a 2021 Rockets-produced documentary about his coaching journey. “He really valued my opinion, which was kind of weird for me, because I was so young and didn’t have a lot of experience.”
Stephen Silas persevered for a long time before he got his big chance. He saw his father wait so long to get the job he wanted too. Paul Silas was fired by the San Diego Clippers in 1983 and did not have a head coaching opportunity again until 1999—that came when Dave Cowens, who was Paul Silas’ assistant, stepped down at Charlotte after a short 4-11 start. 1998-99 season.
“I stayed positive,” Paul Silas told the Rotary Club of Charlotte while giving a speech there in 2013. “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 took 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 incredible,” said Paul Silas. “At 18 years old, he knew about Bill Russell, and he knew a lot of the players that came through that most players his age don’t even know. And he understood the game.”
Over time, James becomes a hero. It took Paul Silas a few years to get to that level as a player too.
He was a five-time All-Defensive Team selection who averaged 9.4 points and 9.9 rebounds in 16 seasons with St. Louis, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix, Boston, Denver, and Seattle. Silas won two titles with the Celtics—the first came in his tenth season as a player—and earned his third with the SuperSonics. At 36, he was then the oldest player in the NBA when he retired. As union president, Silas oversaw a time when rosters grew, salaries rose and benefits improved.
“He is respected by all who have met him throughout the NBA, and we are grateful for his contributions to the game throughout his basketball life,” the Suns said Sunday.
Paul Silas played his college basketball at Creighton, averaging 20.5 points and 21.6 rebounds in three seasons. He was voted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.
“His illustrious career as a player and coach will be matched by few,” said Bluejays coach Greg McDermott.
AP sportswriter Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed.
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