Paul Silas, a three-time NBA champion and longtime coach, has died at the age of 79, according to his family.

Paul Silas, a member of three NBA championship teams as a player and LeBron James’ first coach in the league, died on Sunday, according to his family. He was 79.

The death was announced by the family via the Houston Rockets, for whom Silas’ son, Stephen, is a second-generation head coach. Silas’ death was first reported by the Boston Globe, and no official cause was given.

“We mourn the passing of former NBA All-Star and head coach Paul Silas,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “The many players and coaches he inspired, including his son, Rockets head coach Stephen Silas, bear witness to Paul’s lasting contributions to the game. We express our heartfelt condolences to Paul’s family.”

Silas began his coaching career in 1980, when he took over as head coach of the then-San Diego Clippers for three years. After more than a decade as an assistant, he became a head coach for the Charlotte Hornets, the New Orleans Hornets, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Charlotte Bobcats.

He led four of those teams to the playoffs, winning exactly 400 games in the regular season and another 13 in the postseason.

“Paul made a huge contribution to the game of basketball and will be sorely missed!” Magic Johnson, a Hall of Fame guard and Los Angeles Lakers legend, wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday night, the Rockets hosted the Milwaukee Bucks. It was unclear how long Stephen Silas would be absent from the team; the Rockets planned to have John Lucas lead the team on an interim basis while the Silas family grieved.

Stephen Silas began his NBA career as an advance scout while his father was coaching in Charlotte, eventually becoming an assistant on his father’s staff with the Hornets in 2000. Stephen Silas had to wait two decades for a chance to be a head coach, which he finally got in 2020 when Houston hired him.

“My dad, obviously, he was my No. 1 mentor, someone who I could lean on, ask questions and he asked questions of me,” Stephen Silas said in a 2021 Rockets documentary about his coaching journey. “He really valued my opinion, which was kind of weird to me, me being so young and not having much experience.”

Stephen Silas had to work hard for a long time before he got his big break. He witnessed his father wait a long time for the job he desired. Paul Silas was fired by the San Diego Clippers in 1983 and would not be given another head coaching job until 1999, when Dave Cowens, for whom Paul Silas was an assistant, stepped down in Charlotte following a 4-11 start to the shortened 1998-99 season.

“I was known as not a hard, hard, hard worker and it really hurt me when I was an assistant coach, for about 10 years, when I couldn’t get a head job,” Paul Silas said in a speech to the Rotary Club of Charlotte in 2013. “I approached several teams about becoming a head coach, but I was unsuccessful. What happened was that I maintained my positive attitude. I maintained a positive attitude. ‘No, I’m not going to be negative,’ I said, despite the fact that I didn’t get the job. I’m going to be optimistic.'”

Silas would eventually take over in Cleveland. He arrived in 2003, the same year the Cavaliers drafted LeBron James.

“I coached LeBron for two years, his first two years, and LeBron was unbelievable,” Paul Silas said. “He knew about Bill Russell when he was 18 years old, and he knew about a lot of players who came through that most players his age don’t even know about. And he knew what was going on. I gave LeBron the role of point guard because I didn’t have one when he first arrived. He didn’t say anything to me. He simply took over the game, and we performed admirably.”

James would eventually become a champion. It took Paul Silas a few years to reach that level as well.

In 16 seasons with the St. Louis and Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix, Boston, Denver, and Seattle, he was a five-time All-Defensive team selection who averaged 9.4 points and 9.9 rebounds. Silas won two championships with the Celtics, the first in his tenth season, and a third with the SuperSonics. In the 1976 NBA Finals, he averaged 12.8 points and 13.8 rebounds for the Celtics against the Suns.

“Respected by all those who encountered him throughout the NBA, we are grateful for his contributions to the game across a lifetime in basketball,” the Suns said on Sunday.

Paul Silas attended Creighton University and averaged 20.5 points and 21.6 rebounds over three seasons. In 2017, he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Creighton legend Paul Silas,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said. “His illustrious career as a player and coach will be matched by few.”

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