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 for his son to get the chance to run a franchise.
“I’ve always tried to stay positive,” Silas said in 2013, “and I think I mostly succeeded.”
Silas, who came into contact with the game as a player, coach and president of the National Basketball Players Association, has passed away, his family announced on Sunday. Silas, whose son, Stephen Silas, coaches the Houston Rockets, turned 79.
“He combined the knowledge he had developed over nearly 40 years as an NBA player and coach with an innate understanding of how to combine discipline with his never-ending positivity,” said Charlotte Hornets President Michael Jordan. “On or off the field, Paul’s enthusiastic and engaging personality was accompanied by an anecdote for every occasion. He was one of the all-time great 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 Saturday night. The Boston Globe first reported that Silas had died.
“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 in the many players and coaches he inspired, including his son, Rockets head coach Stephen. Silas. We extend our deepest condolences to Paul’s family.”
Tributes came in quickly. New Orleans had a moment of silence for Silas ahead of Sunday’s game with Phoenix, and both Suns coach Monty Williams and Charlotte coach Steve Clifford spoke at length about Silas’ role in their careers.
“To my family he is a God. He’s bigger than life,” said Clifford.
Silas began his career as head coach with a three-year stint leading the then-San Diego Clippers beginning in 1980. After serving as an assistant for over a decade, he returned as head coach and spent time with the Charlotte Hornets. the New Orleans Hornets, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Charlotte Bobcats.
He took four of those teams to the playoffs and won exactly 400 games – 387 in the regular season, 13 more in the postseason.
The Rockets hosted Milwaukee on Sunday night. It wasn’t immediately clear how long Stephen Silas would be away from the team; the Rockets planned to let John Lucas run the team on an interim basis while the Silas family grieves.
“His engaging presence and tremendous personality inspired legions of NBA players and coaches,” the Cavaliers said of Paul Silas in a statement released by the team. “We extend our deepest condolences to the Silas family and all who loved him. Rest in power Coach!”
Stephen Silas entered the NBA world when his father was coaching in Charlotte. He started out as a forward scout and eventually served as an assistant on his father’s staff with the Hornets in 2000. It took Stephen Silas two decades to get the chance to become head coach, which came when Houston hired him in 2020.
“My dad was obviously my No. 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 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 long before he got his big chance. He also saw his father waiting a long time for the job he wanted. Paul Silas was fired by the San Diego Clippers in 1983 and would not be offered the opportunity to become head coach again until 1999. season 1998-99.
“I have stayed positive. I had a positive attitude,” Paul Silas told the Rotary Club of Charlotte while speaking 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 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 incredible,” said Paul Silas. don’t even know. And he understood the game.”
In time, James would become champion. It took Paul Silas a few years to get to that level as a player as well.
He was a five-time All-Defensive team selection who averaged 9.4 points and 9.9 rebounds in 16 seasons with the St. Louis and Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix, Boston, Denver and Seattle. Silas won two titles with the Celtics – the first in his 10th season as a player – and claimed a third with the SuperSonics. At age 36, he was then the NBA’s oldest player when he retired. And as union president, Silas oversaw a time when schedules expanded, salaries rose, and benefits improved.
“Respected by all who met him in the NBA, we are grateful for his contributions to the game throughout his life in basketball,” 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.
Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said, “His illustrious career as a player and coach will be matched by few.”
TBEN Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed.
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