Silas, Paul 1943–
Paul Silas 1943–
Professional basketball coach
Paul Silas is perhaps best remembered by professional basketball fans as one of the fearsome quintet that brought the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship back to Boston after several years of ownership by the Boston Celtics’ arch-rivals, the New York Knicks. As a forward, Silas was a powerful player who dominated opposing players in the rough-and-tumble zone under the net, and he is still ranked as one of the top rebounders—players who gain control of the ball after a missed shot—in the history of the NBA. After his retirement as an active player in 1980, Silas stayed active in the game, and the beginning of his tenure as head coach of the Charlotte Hornets in 1999 seemed to promise future success.
Silas was born in Prescott, Arkansas, on July 12, 1943, but spent much of his youth in Oakland, California. He attended McClymonds High School, a large institution on the city’s east side with strong sports traditions; other famous McClymonds alumni included longtime Boston Celtics center Bill Russell and baseball stars Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. Silas moved on to Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and graduated in 1964.
During his time at Creighton, Silas’s all-around skills and the power of his game began to mark him as a future professional standout. One of only six players in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) history to average both over 20 points and over 20 rebounds per game in a single season—a distinction he shares with such stellar company as Julius Erving, Bill Russell, and Artis Gilmore—Silas compounded this achievement by repeating it in all three years of his varsity career. He remains the NCAA record holder for most rebounds in a three-year career (when Silas played college basketball it was unusual for freshmen to play at the varsity level), and holds the rank of sixth overall.
Other aspects of Silas’s collegiate career caught the attention of pro scouts. He led the NCAA in rebounds in 1963 with his average of 20.6 per game, and his extraordinary 38 rebounds during a game on February 19,1962 still rank eighth on the all-time list. In the 1964 draft, Silas was selected by the St. Louis Hawks in the second round, as the 12th pick overall of the hundreds of players who began their NBA careers that year.
At a Glance…
Born July 12, 1943, in Prescott, AR; married to Carolyn; children: Donna, Paula, Stephen. Education: graduated from Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, 1964.
Career: Professional basketball player and coach; drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, 1964; forward: St. Louis (later Atlanta), Hawks, 1964-69; Phoenix Suns, 1969-72; Boston Celtics, 1972-76; Denver Nuggets, 1976-77; Seattle Supersonics, 1977-80; head coach, San Diego Clippers, 1980-83; assistant coach, New Jersey Nets, 1988-89 and 1992-95; assistant coach, New York Knicks, 1989-92; assistant coach, Phoenix Suns, 1995-97; asst. coach, Charlotte Hornets, 1997-99; head coach, Charlotte Hornets, 1999-.
Addresses: Office—c/o Charlotte Hornets, One Hive Dr., Charlotte, NC 28217.
Except for a short stint with the minor-league Wilkes-Barre Barons, Silas remained with the Hawks for five seasons.
Silas was traded to the newly-established Phoenix Suns in 1969, where he remained until 1972. A consistent player whose performance tended not to vary widely over his entire career, he notched his single best season with Phoenix during the 1971-72 campaign, scoring 1403 points and averaging 17.5 points per game. Silas also logged 3,082 minutes of playing time that year, a personal high. During his 16 seasons in the NBA, he was almost always a member of his team’s starting lineup.
The Suns traded their emerging star to the Boston Celtics in September of 1972. Following the end of the 1973-74 regular season, Silas found himself in the thick of a hotly contested NBA championship series against the New York Knicks, the team that had displaced the Celtics as the league’s perennial powerhouse in the early 1970s. The Celtics brought the championship crown back to Boston, as Silas, in the words of The Modern Encyclopedia of Basketball, “outmuscled the Knicks forwards.” In addition to his shooting and rebounding skills, Silas was also a talented defensive player. Silas was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive first team in 1975, after making the second team in 1971, 1972, and 1973. He made the first team again in 1976, and helped to lead the Celtics to another league championship.
Silas was traded to the Denver Nuggets in 1976, and to the Seattle Supersonics the following year. He helped lead these teams to the playoffs each year until his retirement in 1980. A two-time NBA All-Star (in 1972 and 1975) and a past president of the NBA Players’ Association by the time he retired, Silas had amassed an impressive record. By 1980 Silas ranked ninth on the NBA’s all-time list of top rebounders, and he remained in 14th place as of 1999. When he retired, Silas was also ranked seventh in number of games played, having taken to an NBA court 1,254 times.
Following the end of his playing career, Silas was hired as the coach of the San Diego Clippers, a perennial cellar dweller that had hired a succession of coaches during its brief existence. Initially, Silas was hired as a player-coach, but he decided to end his playing career to focus on coaching. Silas remained at the helm for three years, but injuries, including one to Clippers center Bill Walton, plagued the team. The Clippers’ won-lost record dropped to 17–65 during the 1981–82 season. Although the Clippers record improved to 25–57 the following season, Silas was fired in the spring of 1983.
A married father of three, Silas spent several years away from the NBA. He eventually hosted an annual corporate basketball tournament to benefit youth organizations in his home area of Westchester County. Silas returned to coaching in 1988 as an assistant with the New Jersey Nets. After one season, he took a coaching job with the New York Knicks, only to return to the New Jersey Nets in 1992. During this time, he had the opportunity to work with two of the NBA’s finest coaches of the 1990s, the Knicks’ Pat Riley and the Nets’ Chuck Daly. In 1995, Silas became a top assistant with the Phoenix Suns, for whom he had played a quarter century before. In 1997, he accepted an assistant coaching position with the Charlotte Hornets.
Early in 1999, the Hornets were struggling with a 4–11 record under coach Dave Cowens. Cowens resigned, and Silas was named as interim head coach. He promptly turned the team’s fortunes around. Under Silas’s leadership, the Hornets compiled a 22–13 record and narrowly missed the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Hornets’ management rewarded Silas by removing the interim designation from his title, and named him as the team’s head coach. Silas appeared to be well on his way to adding another chapter to a distinguished basketball career.
Broussard, Mark, and Brendan Roberts, eds., The Sporting News Official NBA Register, 1999–2000 ed., Sporting News, 1999.
Broussard, Mark, and Craig Carter, eds., The Sporting News Official NBA Guide, 1999–2000 ed. Sporting News, 1999.
Hollander, Zander, The Modern Encyclopedia of Basketball, Dolphin, 1979.
Jet, May 31, 1999, p. 48.
New York Times, April 23, 1999, p. D3.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from http://www.nba.com/hornets/bios/coach.html
—James M. Manheim