Team Silas: Like father, like son
BY SAM PERLEY, HORNETS.COM
As an assistant coach for 16 NBA seasons now, Charlotte’s Stephen Silas has had the opportunity to work with some of the best in the business. Of all the people he’s crossed paths with in the league though, nobody has had a bigger impact on Stephen’s career than his father, Paul, who put together a lengthy NBA tenure as both a player and coach. Despite the impressive accolades Paul garnered during his time in the league, it’s what he had to personally endure along the way as an African-American that’s made Stephen so proud to be his son today.
Born in 1943 in Prescott, AR, Paul grew up during an immensely challenging time for African-Americans in this country. Although he went on to have an extremely successful collegiate basketball career at Creighton University, setting a three-year NCAA rebounding record from 1962-64, he was still forced to deal with racism and bigotry while playing for the Bluejays in Omaha, NE.
“My dad grew up during the ‘60s and dealt with major, major discrimination, separation and segregation. When he was in college, there were hotels he wasn’t allowed to go to or restaurants where he’d have to go around back and eat,” recalled Stephen.
A two-time All-Star and five-time NBA All-Defensive team member, Paul played 16 seasons with five different teams from 1964-80, winning a pair of championships with the Boston Celtics (1974 and 1976) and one with the Seattle SuperSonics (1979). Following his playing career, Paul embarked on a roughly 27-year NBA coaching career, during which he served at the helm of the San Diego Clippers (1980-83), Charlotte Hornets (1999-2002; 2010-12), New Orleans Hornets (2002-03) and Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-05).
Despite an accomplished basketball career that certainly spoke for itself, Stephen says his father still faced racial prejudice even after he became a NBA head coach. Regardless of the hardships, he insisted his father never showed any signs of letting things get to him.
“I can’t imagine going through that period of time and really having the attitude he has grown to have and still has to this day as far as inclusion and positivity. To not have any sort of bitterness to anybody based on who he is - not necessarily what he went through - because what he went through was tough. He had a lot of discrimination all the way up to when he was a head coach,” said Stephen.
With Paul having been a pioneer for current and future African-American head coaches in the NBA, Black History Month certainly holds a particularly special meaning to Stephen.
“It means quite a bit. Basically, where it all kind of started was a situation where blacks weren’t necessarily coming over here on their own will and had to really fight through slavery and a lot of issues, obviously. For people to take all that and kind of go through all the problems that they had and to still rise, still be inventors and still push for the cause is special,” said Silas, who picked up bachelor’s degrees in both sociology and management while playing at Brown University.
“Me growing up, there wasn’t necessarily that much focus on black history going through school and that sort of thing. It’s an important month and I’m glad there’s a focus on it,” he added.
Talking with Stephen, it’s easy to get a sense that much of the positivity and optimism that he loves about his father has rubbed off on him. Having interviewed with a few other teams over the last couple of offseasons, it likely won’t be long before Stephen lands a head coaching job of his own, a worthy culmination after years of dedication to the sport. It’s a trait he hopes is conveyed to the next generation of coaches, whether they’re African-American or not.
“Hard work pays off. It started from when I was a little kid and loved basketball, but loving it wasn’t enough. I had to go to school. I went to Brown, enjoyed my time there, but combining the education and that love of basketball got me to the point where I am today.”
Stephen also knows his current and future successes wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for people like his father helping pave the way for African-Americans years earlier.
“We don’t have the same barriers that my parents had and I was able to benefit from a lot of the things that they went through. Hopefully, younger kids will be able to benefit from the experiences that I’ve had growing up and seeing what they went through and making it a little bit better.”
Still in his early forties, Stephen certainly still has plenty of coaching lying ahead of him. Now 73, Paul has been a regular at Hornets games the last few seasons and currently serves as a special advisor to the team’s majority owner, Michael Jordan. Aside from the obvious father-son dynamic, Paul and Stephen certainly share a special, unique coaching bond with each other, one the former helped forge in spite of challenging circumstances. If or when Stephen finally lands that well-deserved NBA head coaching job, you can be assured Paul will be right there by his side when it happens.