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NBA legend, three-time champion Paul Silas dies at 79

Boston Celtics

BOSTON - 1973: Paul Silas #35 of the Boston Celtics looks on during a game played in 1973 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1973 NBAE (Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

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).

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.”

Our thoughts go out to Stephen Silas and the Silas family.