2020 was a brutal year, and 2021 isn't starting off any better.
Former Kings head coach and Naismith Hall of Fame player Paul Westphal has passed away after a battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Mike Lupica is a long-time sports writer and close personal friend of the Westphal family.
Known for his ability to score in bunches, Westphal was a four-time All-NBA player and a five-time All-Star during his 12-year NBA career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2019.
Westphal took over the coaching reigns for the Kings during the 2009-10 season. He posted a 51-120 record in Sacramento, but his record tells very little of the story of his tenure in Sacramento.
After successful runs in Phoenix and Seattle, Westphal took on a project of epic proportions in Sacramento. He was at the helm for Tyreke Evans' 20-5-5 Rookie of the Year season, but also the next year when the team selected DeMarcus Cousins with the No. 5 overall pick.
Midway through his second season in Sacramento, the Maloof family attempted to relocate the team to Anaheim. With ownership absent, Westphal was left to answer for the entire franchise during its darkest time. He handled the assignment with grace, dignity and empathy, despite knowing that his fate as a head coach was tenuous at best.
While his time in Sacramento was short, Westphal left a mark on the franchise, much like he did in previous stops as both a coach and player.
The organization released a statement Saturday following the announcement of Westphal's passing.
“The Sacramento Kings organization is deeply heartbroken to learn of the passing of Paul Westphal. “Westy” created a storied legacy in the game of basketball as a Hall of Fame player, decorated coach and broadcast analyst. We are extremely grateful that a part of his incredible career was spent in Sacramento with the Kings.
“Along with the numerous accolades and achievements he earned on the court, he was a true gentleman who treated everyone he encountered with remarkable kindness, humility and candor, making an indelible impact on so many across our sport.
“The entire Kings family mourns the loss as we extend our deepest condolences to Paul’s wife Cindy, son Michael and daughter Victoria. The Westphal family remains in our hearts, thoughts and prayers during this most difficult time.”
Known throughout the league as one of the true gentlemen of the game, Westphal will be missed. While his accomplishments as a player and coach are legendary, he would rather be known for the life he lived off the court.
Westphal was a man of faith. He cherished his family and friends. He is survived by his wife Cindy; two children and four grandchildren.
On a personal note, I was lucky to start my career covering the NBA during the 2010-11 Kings season. Westphal was a kind soul, a great storyteller and eventually a friend. He took time to develop relationships, even with a young journalist cutting his teeth and he will be missed greatly.