In the turbulent NBA of the 1970s, Paul Silas was a rock — on and off the court. His physical defense and work on the boards was part of championship teams with the Celtics during the Dave Cowens era, plus he was an anchor on Seattle’s title team of 1979. He went on to be an NBA coach for a dozen seasons, including being LeBron James‘ first coach in Cleveland.
Silas has died at the age of 79, a story first reported by Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe (and since confirmed by others).
I am very sad to report that the Great Paul Silas has died at age 79. To watch him play was a joy. To be his friend was an honor.
— Bob Ryan (@GlobeBobRyan) December 11, 2022
Silas is the father of Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas.
“Our Hornets family mourns the passing of Paul Silas,” Hornets chairman Michael Jordan said. “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.”
Silas played his high school ball at McClymonds High School in Oakland, then went to college at Creighton, where he was a third-team All-American his senior year and is now in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
The St. Louis Hawks drafted him and Silas played five seasons with the Hawks, including their first season in Atlanta. At 6’7″, he was a bedrock defender and rebounder who became a five-time All-Defensive Team player and a two-time All-Star.
Silas is best remembered on the court as a solid anchor to the Cowens/John Havlicek Celtics, where Silas won two rings. He went on to win a third with the Seattle Supersonics in 1979. He coached a dozen seasons in the NBA with the Clippers, Hornets, and Cavaliers, coaching players such as Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and LeBron.
He finished his career with more than 10,000 points and 10,000 rebounds, one of just 38 players ever to do according to Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference.
In what was a wild, at times drug-fueled era of the NBA in the 1970s, Silas was off the court what he was on — a rock-solid, pillar of an individual and friend that was beloved by all who knew him. Tributes poured in as the news got out around the NBA.
The Phoenix Suns released this statement: “The Phoenix Suns are saddened by the passing of Paul Silas, a beloved basketball figure and former player and assistant coach with the team. The first Suns center to be named an NBA All-Star and the first All-Defensive selection in franchise history, Paul still holds the Suns’ record for rebounds in a single season. Respected by all those who encountered him throughout the NBA, we are grateful for his contributions to the game across a lifetime in basketball. Our condolences go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.”
My first NBA Coach. He made me the nba player I became, he told the honest truth about everything pertaining to basketball, raw and uncut, we still had multiple conversations til this day, and I have been wondering why I haven’t heard from him lately, this saddens me, great man😪 pic.twitter.com/9SVpsm8twE
— Eddie Robinson (@erob3232) December 11, 2022
Paul Silas was a giant in basketball circles. A great man. Was fortunate to spend a couple of seasons with Paul when he was an asst coach with the Suns. I don’t know anyone with a bad word to say about him — ever. A sad day. My heart is with Stephen and the family. Rest, Paul. https://t.co/Exclr9tkz8
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) December 11, 2022
RIP to Hall of Famer, 3X NBA Champion, and my guy Paul Silas. Paul made a huge contribution to the game of basketball and will be sorely missed! Cookie and I send our prayers and condolences to the entire Silas family 🙏🏾❤️
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) December 11, 2022
Our thoughts go out to Stephen Silas and the Silas family.