The cool thing about sports is how things can be passed down from generation to generation. When it comes to the NBA, the biggest things seem to be debating the greatness of former players vs. today’s and how the game has changed over decades.
But this is not one of those kinds of articles. There won’t be any LeBron vs. MJ ferver. We won’t argue the merits of load management or tanking.
This is a story to celebrate a man whose legacy is multi-faceted and multi-generational: Paul Silas, who passed away last Saturday at the age of 79.
As a player, Silas was a two-time All-Star, a five-time All-Defensive pick and three-time NBA champ. While Silas spent time in St. Louis, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Seattle, he’s likely most remembered for winning two of his titles for some legendary Boston Celtics teams.
“He was such a great player, a lot of his career was with the Celtics,” Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford said. “I’m from Northern New England, so for my family, I mean, he’s a god. He’s larger than life.”
Silas was known as an enforcer for those Celtics team, but his personality off the court seemed nothing like his rugged persona on it.
“I hope he’s remembered as first of all a great player,” Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said. “You look at a Paul Silas, he was an enforcer. He was nothing but toughness. But then when you look at him as a man, he was the most gentle human being, most honest human being. We need more of those in our league.”
Both Clifford and Rivers have unique connections to Silas.
Immediately following his playing career, Silas took a head coaching job with the San Diego Clippers in 1980. After a difficult stint out West, Silas bounced around as an assistant with the Nets and Knicks before ending up in Phoenix. He then joined Charlotte as an assistant and became the interim head coach with the Hornets. After a successful stint to close the season, the interim tag was removed. That’s where Silas enjoyed most of his success as a head coach, compiling a 208-155 record and taking the team to the playoffs in each of his full seasons.
After a brief stint in Cleveland, Silas returned to Charlotte as coach of the Bobcats.
Like Silas, Clifford has had two stints in Charlotte as a head coach — with a stop in Orlando in between. During his first stop with the Hornets, one of Clifford’s assistants was pretty close with Paul Silas — his son, Stephen Silas.
“I’ve known Coach Silas for a long, long time,” Clifford said pregame Sunday. “And he, for whatever reason, and I feel blessed that he did this, is when I came to Charlotte last time he went out of his way … to develop a friendship and was just great in guiding me through being a first-time head coach. He used to sit right behind the bench, he and Mrs. Silas. He used to come to practice a lot. He would take me to lunch a lot. Give me advice — ‘direct advice’ as he used to say — about everything from X’s and O’s to leadership to sometimes media. And but he’s just a very incredibly giving man.”
For Rivers, who coached the Celtics from 2004-05 to 2012-14, the bond was also deep. He considered Silas one of his biggest mentors.
“He was just the greatest guy. He really was,” Rivers said. “Every time there’s a struggle in my life — or he assumes there’s one — there’s a call. Something good happens, he’s like, ‘That’s what you’re supposed to do.’ I mean, he was the best.”
The impact Silas had on the game was profound. His legacy lasting. He was LeBron James’ first head coach in 2003. Though it didn’t end well in Cleveland, James reflected on how Silas helped an 18-year-old phenom adjust to being a professional.
“Probably one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever been around,” James said postgame in Detroit. “The start of my journey in this league started with him. His command, his principles, his attention to detail, but his love for family. I feel for his whole family, his beautiful wife, obviously, Stephen Silas down in Houston.
“Every time I would go back to Charlotte he would always come to the games and I would always try to look for him in the crowd. To hear that news is very sad.”
And, of course, Silas’ biggest legacy can be felt with his son, Stephen. The younger Silas is leading the young Rockets through a rebuild — something his dad could surely relate to.
With the passing of his father, Stephen is stepping away from his head coaching duties. In his absence, his team pulled off a surprising win against the Bucks under assistant coach John Lucas, who became friends with the elder Silas during their playing days in the 1970s.
When his son first got the job in Houston, he couldn’t have been happier.
“He’s gonna be good. Man, oh, man, he’s got a good job. It’s wonderful. I talked to him last week and I said ‘Stephen, this is gonna happen. I know it’s gonna happen.’ And it did. He said, ‘Dad, you were right.’ I’m so happy for him.
“He is a special coach. He was with me for a long time [as an assistant]. Stephen has paid his dues. He’s been doing a heck of a job, and I’m so happy. When he starts working, I told him I’m gonna go down there and see what he’s doing.”
What a legacy, indeed.