Paul Theron Silas (1943–)

Paul Silas was an All-Star player and then coach in the National Basketball Association (NBA) over a period from 1964 to 2002.  Playing for five different teams throughout his career, he was a two-time All-Star as well as a member of three NBA championship teams over the course of sixteen seasons. He then served as a head coach for over a decade.

Paul Theron Silas was born on July 12, 1943, in Prescott (Nevada County) to Leon Silas, who was a railroad laborer, and his wife, about whom little is known. The family moved a few times and lived in New York and Chicago before returning to Prescott when Silas was six. When he was eight, Silas was sent to Oakland, California, to live with his grandparents. He found a more stable life than the one he had left behind, which had been dominated by his father’s drinking problem and frequent work-related absences.

In Oakland, Silas discovered basketball, and he played at the city’s McClymonds High School, the alma mater of NBA legend Bill Russell. After graduating from McClymonds, Silas chose to continue his basketball career in Omaha, Nebraska, at Creighton University; this was done at the urging of his father, whose railroad travels had often taken him through Omaha. At Creighton, Silas became one of only five players in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) history who averaged twenty points and twenty rebounds per season for their career, with Silas achieving this in each of his three varsity seasons. Omaha was not free of racial tensions at that time, and Silas was the only African American on the team his sophomore year, but he appeared to have few problems in college. He graduated in 1964 after a season in which he was selected for numerous All-American teams. Creighton retired his number 35 and he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.

Silas was selected by the St. Louis Hawks as the twelfth pick in the 1964 NBA draft. In a sixteen-season career that included stints with the St. Louis Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks, the Phoenix Suns, the Boston Celtics, the Denver Nuggets, and the Seattle SuperSonics, Silas distinguished himself as a tough, unselfish, hardnosed rebounder and defensive specialist. He was a two-time All-Star and was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive first team in 1975 and 1976, while also being selected for  the second team on three other occasions. He was a major contributor to the Boston Celtics’ 1974 and 1976 championship teams and was an important part of the 1979 Seattle SuperSonics squad that took the championship. He averaged more than ten rebounds a game for eight seasons, as well as eight in which his scoring average was in double digits.

At the conclusion of the 1979–80 season, Silas was named head coach of the San Diego Clippers. That appointment on May 21, 1980, launched an NBA coaching career that lasted into the twenty-first century. The initial stint with the Clippers lasted until he was fired in April 1983, after the team compiled a record of 78–168 over the course of his three seasons at the helm. After two years away, Silas returned to the coaching ranks in 1985 as an assistant with the New Jersey Nets, a job he held for a year. After another hiatus, he returned to the NBA, serving as an assistant coach for the New York Knicks from 1989 to 1992, a tenure that included a season working under Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley. Silas then returned to the Nets, where his three seasons from 1992 to 1995 included a year working under another Hall of Famer, Chuck Daly. He next served for two years as an assistant with the Phoenix Suns, followed by a season and a half as an assistant with the Charlotte Hornets, before he was promoted to head coach midway through the 1998–99 season. He led the Hornets to a 22–13 record, a performance that earned Silas a long-term contract. He continued into the 2002–2003 season, one that saw the relocated franchise team playing in New Orleans. He left New Orleans to take the top job with the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by rookie LeBron James. While he enjoyed the experience of coaching James, the team struggled, and Silas was fired before the end of the 2004–2005 season after missing the play-offs the previous year. After another period away from the sidelines, this time working for ESPN, he was named interim head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats in December 2010. In February 2011, the interim tag was removed. However, the Bobcats had the worst record in the NBA the following year, and at the end of April 2012, it was announced that Silas would not be returning as head coach. Silas retired from coaching after that season.

Over the course of twelve seasons as an NBA head coach, Silas guided teams to a record of 387–488, including four trips to the playoffs, where the teams compiled a record of 13–16. His most successful season was the 1999–2000 season, when he led the Hornets to forty-nine wins and a second-place finish in the conference.

Silas lives in Lake Norman, North Carolina, with his wife, Carolyn; they had three children, including Stephen Silas, who became an assistant coach in the NBA.

For additional information:
Abrams, Jonathan. “Paul Silas, NBA Lifer.” Grantland, November 12, 2014. Online at http://grantland.com/features/paul-silas-nba-career-boston-celtics-st-louis-atlanta-hawks-phoenix-suns-denver-nuggets-seattle-supersonics-charlotte-bobcats-lenny-wilkens-dave-cowens-bill-russell/ (accessed April 30, 2019).

“Former Creighton Great Paul Silas Officially Inducted into College Basketball Hall of Fame.” Blue Jays Today, November 19, 2017. Online at https://www.omaha.com/creighton/blog/former-creighton-great-paul-silas-officially-inducted-into-college-basketball/article_d78dab8e-cd9f-11e7-8a32-e73836577351.html (accessed April 30, 2019).

“Paul Silas.” Basketball-Reference.com. https://www.basketball-reference.com/coaches/silaspa01c.html (accessed April 30, 2019).

“What the Hell Happened to…Paul Silas?” Celtics Life. http://www.celticslife.com/2015/08/what-hell-happened-topaul-silas.html (accessed April 30, 2019).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School

Last Updated: 05/03/2019

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