Paul Silas, a star NBA player who went on to serve as the Charlotte NBA franchise’s head coach twice, has died. He was 79 years old.
Silas coached the Charlotte Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats, leading the Hornets to four straight winning seasons from 1998 to 2002. He also played 16 years in the NBA and was known for his rebounding prowess and durability.
Silas won three NBA championships as a player with Boston and Seattle, and nearly 400 games as an NBA head coach. His son, Stephen Silas, is now the head coach of the NBA’s Houston Rockets.
After his second stint as Charlotte’s head coach ended after the 2011–12 season, Silas and his wife, Carolyn, remained a frequent fixture at Hornets home games. While he was the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Silas also led future NBA superstar LeBron James’ rookie season. He remains the last coach to lead the Hornets to a playoff victory, in 2002. A cause of death was not immediately available.
Silas could be a stern presence in the locker room – he once had a physical confrontation in 2012 with an underperforming Bobcats player named Tyrus Thomas – but was loved outside of it due to his genius nature and savvy inherent kindness. When the Bobcats told him he would not return as head coach after leading the ignominious 7-59 season of 2011-12, Silas held a farewell press conference and then stayed to shake hands with all journalists thereafter.
I live in Denver, NC, not too far from Silas and the dream house he built on Lake Norman, and the man loved basketball. I’ve coached several recreational teams in a local league over the years, and it wasn’t at all uncommon for Silas to walk into the gym and sit in the stands, watching 10-year-olds try to get the ball rolling. ball beyond half the pitch without returning it.
I remember approaching him once during one of those games and sitting with him for a while as we watched two young teams combine for a shooting percentage of around 15%. Silas smiled at me, laughed in that deep baritone, and said, “Isn’t that great?”
Silas actually served as a volunteer assistant coach in this recreational league for several years with a neighbor who was the head coach, when Silas was between gigs and just wanted to be around the game. He once coached my oldest son in this league, and my son said Silas insisted on rebounding above all else. Once, while Silas was showing the boys how to properly jab, one of his NBA championship rings fell and slammed onto the court. “Nothing made Coach Silas happier than a good box-out,” my son, Chapel Fowler, recalls.
Silas liked to tell the story of when he slipped up and used profanity during one of those games at the East Lincoln Community Center.
“I was on the bench the other day and my neighbor was coaching,” Silas told me in 2010, “and then something happened on the pitch. I didn’t like it and all of a sudden Suddenly the children started shouting: ‘Mr. Silas said a dirty word! Mr. Silas said a dirty word!’
In more serious basketball terms, Silas also told me that one time the best team he ever coached in Charlotte was the 2001 team, led by Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn. This Charlotte team won a first-round playoff series and then led its best-of-7 second-round streak three games to two against Milwaukee.
Game 6 was in Charlotte. The Hornets had a 10-point halftime lead – and lost it. They also lost Game 7 in Milwaukee, but Silas thought the Charlotte team should have made it to what would have been their only Eastern Conference Finals.
Silas has always been a chic base in Charlotte. He didn’t complain when management gave him so little talent in the 7-59 season of 2011-12. When fan support evaporated near the end of the Hornets’ initial tenure in 2002, Silas often coached half-full arenas (even for playoff games). But he always went out of his way to congratulate fans who showed up rather than criticize those who abandoned ship.
The 6-foot-7 Silas grew up in a multi-family home in Oakland, Calif., living for a time in the same house as younger cousins who would later become famous as the Pointer Sisters. While at Creighton University, Silas was one of the best rebounders in college history, averaging over 20 rebounds per game for an entire season.
As a coach, his players generally liked him.
“He’s absolutely professional on the court,” former Hornets player Bobby Phills once said of Silas. “And he’s a big guy. But he’s a teddy bear at heart.
When Phills died in 2000 in a car accident, Silas had to guide the team through a period of mourning and did so with grace. Silas spoke at Phills’ memorial service, wiping away tears.
In 2002, The Charlotte Observer asked Silas what trait he most admires in a person.
“Honesty,” he said. “If you’re honest, then everything else falls into place.”
This story was originally published December 11, 2022 12:18 p.m.