Meet the Men in Green - Paul Silas

By Bill Bonsiewicz

Every team has one. A player who provides the intangibles - rebounding, tenacious defense, diving for loose balls, soft-spoken leadership - but no one defines that role better than Paul Silas did.

One of the most respected players in the NBA during his career, Paul Silas epitomized effort and diligence. Although only 6-7, not a great leaper, and not even a starter for about half of his 16-year career, Silas retired in 1980 as one of the top rebounders in NBA history. He wasn't flashy or prolific, but he succeeded with relentless work on the boards and unparalleled tenacity on defense.

Drafted by the St. Louis Hawks in 1964 out of Creighton, Silas was a member of three NBA Championship teams (1974,1976,1979) and two NBA All-Defensive First Teams (1975,1976).

He joined the Celtics in 1972 and proved to be a crucial addition to a team trying to regain its championship form. In four seasons in the Green and White, he averaged more than 1,000 rebounds per year (12.3 rpg), while also averaging double figures in scoring (11.5 ppg) as well. The Celtics went 184-62 over Silas's first three seasons and never lost more than two games in a row during that span.

The Celtics were dominant in 1972-73, running up a 68-14 record and winning the Atlantic Division title by 11 games over New York, but would eventually fall to the Knicks in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Silas's hard work paid off the following season as the Celtics captured the 1973-74 NBA crown and he earned what would be the first of two championship rings in Boston.

Silas had another huge year in 1974-75, pulling down 12.5 rebounds per game and earning his second trip to the NBA All-Star Game and his first selection to the NBA All-Defensive First Team. Boston won the Atlantic Division again, but the Celtics faltered in the playoffs, losing to the Washington Bullets in the conference finals.

The 1975-76 season proved to be Silas's last year with the Celtics. He led the league in offensive rebounds (365), ranked fourth in rebounding average (12.7 rpg), and repeated on the NBA All-Defensive First Team. The Celtics rewarded his efforts with another division title and the 1976 NBA Championship.

"We had a lot to prove in 1976 since we weren't able to repeat as Champions in 1975 like we thought we should," said Silas. "Coming into the season, I remember the team having a renewed focus to win which we needed because the playoffs that year seemed to be the toughest grind I can ever remember going through. From the start, Buffalo was a tough series and then the Championship round against Phoenix I think should still be considered one of the toughest Championship series ever."

Silas went on to earn another Championship in 1979 with Seattle before retiring after the 1979-80 campaign.

Besides his contributions on the court, Silas was a leader in the locker room, on the team bus, and in practice. "Paul is one of the most extraordinary people I've ever known," said Havlicek in 1976. "I'm not just talking about basketball; his character, his experiences, and his wisdom is unparalleled. He's a very strong leader, and you can't help but be affected by him."

Leadership comes naturally to Silas so it only seemed appropriate he turned to the sidelines after his playing days were over.

Currently the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets, Silas has put together a coaching resume as impressive as his playing days. His coaching experience before becoming Charlotte's top man in 1999 included two seasons as the top assistant with the Phoenix Suns from 1995 through 1997. Prior to the 1995-96 season, Silas worked for the New Jersey Nets for four seasons (1988-89, 1992-95), including one season under Hall-of-Famer Chuck Daly. From 1989-92, he was an assistant for the New York Knicks, including one season under Pat Riley. Following his illustrious playing career in the NBA, Silas was the head coach of the San Diego Clippers (the franchise's ninth head coach) for three seasons from 1980-83.