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

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Legendary NBA player and former coach Paul Silas has died at the age of 79, the Houston Rockets confirmed. Silas spent 16 years as an NBA player, winning three championships, two with the Boston Celtics and one with the Seattle SuperSonics. He was a two-time All-Star and a five-time All-Defensive player during his playing career which spanned five teams over nearly two decades. 

After retiring in 1980, Silas remained in the NBA world, immediately becoming a head coach for the San Diego Clippers. He then spent 11 seasons as an assistant coach for the New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and Charlotte Hornets. He went on to become the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets in 1998, where he led the team to four playoff appearances, including two trips to the Eastern Conference finals. 

Silas’ next head coaching job would be for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2003-2005, where he was the first NBA coach of LeBron James. He then returned for another short stint as the head coach for Charlotte from 2010-2012. Over his 12 years as a head coach in the league, Silas compiled a 387-488 record (.442 winning percentage), and went to the playoffs four times. Silas’ son, Stephen Silas, is currently the head coach of the Houston Rockets. Stephen got his first assistant coaching job under his father from 2000-03 with the Charlotte Hornets and then New Orleans Hornets. He then served as an assistant to his father again from 2010-12 with Charlotte.

After hearing of Silas’ death, Hornets team owner Michael Jordan issued the following statement about his franchise’s former head coach:

“Our Hornets family mourns the passing of Paul Silas. Paul was an incredible leader and motivator who served as our head coach on two occasions. He combined the knowledge developed over nearly 40 years as an NBA player and coach with an innate understanding of how to mix discipline with his never-ending positivity. On or off the court, 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. My thoughts, and the thoughts of our entire organization, are with his wife, Carolyn; his children, Paula and Stephen; and the entire Silas family.”

Over Silas’ illustrious playing career and long coaching career he shared the court with legends like Bob Pettit while playing for the St. Louis Hawks, and John Havlicek during his time with the Boston Celtics. He then served as an assistant on staffs where he coached players like Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley. He even coached Kobe Bryant’s father, Joe Bryant, during his time as head coach for the San Diego Clippers. In addition to being LeBron’s first head coach in the league, Silas was also Kemba Walker’s first head coach during the 2011-12 season.

Silas was drafted in the second round of the 1964 NBA Draft by the St. Louis Hawks, after spending four standout years at Creighton, where he had career averages of 20.5 points and a ridiculous 21.6 rebounds in college. His No. 35 jersey was retired by Creighton in 1974, and rightfully so given how gaudy his numbers were — specifically the rebounding — in college. Silas is one of just five players in NCAA history to average over 20 points and 20 rebounds during his college career, putting him alongside other legendary names like Bill Russell, Julius Erving, Kermit Washington and Artis Gilmore.

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