Paul Silas, a member of three NBA championship teams as a player and LeBron James’ first coach in the league, has died, his family said Sunday. He was 79.
The family announced the death through the Houston Rockets, for which Silas’ son, Stephen, is a second-generation head coach. The Boston Globe was the first to report Silas’ death, and an official cause was not immediately announced.
“We mourn the passing of former NBA All-Star and head coach Paul Silas,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “Paul’s long contribution 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.”
Silas began his career as a head coach with a three-year stint at the helm of the then-San Diego Clippers beginning in 1980. After spending more than a decade as an assistant, he returned to head coaching 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, 13 more in the postseason.
“Paul made a great contribution to basketball and he will be greatly missed!” Hall of Fame guard and Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson wrote on Twitter.
The Rockets hosted Milwaukee on Sunday night. It was not immediately clear how long Stephen Silas would be out of the team; The Rockets had planned for John Lucas to lead the team on an interim basis while the Silas family grieved.
Stephen Silas entered the NBA world while his father was coaching in Charlotte, starting as an operational scout and eventually serving as an assistant on his father’s staff with the Hornets in 2000. It took Steven Silas two decades to get a chance to become the head coach that came when Houston hired him in 2020.
“My dad was obviously my No. 1 mentor, somebody I could lean on, ask questions, and he would ask 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 surprising to me because I’m so young and I don’t have a lot of experience.”
Stephen Silas held out for a long time before getting his big chance. He saw his father waiting a long time for the job he wanted too. Paul Silas was fired by the San Diego Clippers in 1983 and did not have a chance to become a head coach again until 1999, when Dave Cowens, under whom Paul Silas had been an assistant, resigned in Charlotte after starting a season short with 4-11. Season 1998-99.
“I was known as a hard worker, and it really hurt when I was an assistant coach for about 10 years when I couldn’t get a job as a manager,” Paul Silas told the Rotary Club of Charlotte. giving a speech there in 2013. “I did talk to teams about being a head coach, but I didn’t get one. Whatever happened, I stayed positive. I had a positive attitude. Even though I couldn’t get a 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,” Paul Silas said. “At 18, he knew about Bill Russell, he knew about a lot of players that had come through that, which most players his age don’t even know about. And he understood the game. I gave LeBron a point because I didn’t when he first started. He didn’t say a word to me. He just took over the game and we got things going.”
In time, James will become a champion. It took Paul Silas a few years to reach this level as a player as well.
He was a five-time All-Defensive All-Star, averaging 9.4 points and 9.9 rebounds over 16 seasons with St. Louis and the Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix, Boston, Denver and Seattle. Silas won two titles with the Celtics – his first in his 10th season as a player – and a third with the SuperSonics. He averaged 12.8 points and 13.8 rebounds in the 1976 Finals for Boston against the Suns.
“With all due respect to all those who faced him in the NBA, we are grateful for his lifelong contributions to the game of basketball,” the Suns said Sunday.
Paul Silas played college basketball at Creighton, averaging 20.5 points and 21.6 rebounds over three seasons. In 2017, he was elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Creighton legend Paul Silas,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said. “His brilliant career as a player and coach will be unmatched.”
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