Paul Westphal dies of brain cancer, NBA world pays tribute to basketball legend

By Matt Johnson
Jan 12, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Former Phoenix Suns coach Paul Westphal speaks during a halftime ceremony against the Houston Rockets at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Westphal, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, died on Saturday following a battle with brain cancer. The NBA icon’s heartbreaking death left the sports world in mourning on Saturday, with tributes pouring in on social media.

Westphal was recently diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. In August, the diagnosis was revealed less than a year after he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Throughout his basketball career, Westphal enjoyed tremendous success as both a player and an athlete. He played in the NBA for more than a decade, making his debut in 1972 with the Boston Celtics and playing until 1984.

Paul Westphal’s iconic basketball career

A native of Southern California, Westphal’s rise to glory started at Aviation High. He quickly caught the attention of the USC Trojans, becoming an All-American for the program. Following his phenomenal success at USC, eventually having his No. 25 retired, Westphal was drafted with the No. 10 overall pick in the 1972 NBA Draft by the Celtics. In his second season, he won a championship with the Celtics.

He joined the Phoenix Suns in 1975, where his NBA career blossomed. While operating as the team’s sixth man, Westphal averaged 20.6 points, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game in six seasons with the Suns. During that stretch (1975-’80), he earned four All-Star selections and was named to the All-NBA First Team three times and All-NBA Second team once.

He returned to the Suns in 1983, after a short stint with the New York Knicks. After his retirement, his No. 44 was retired by the team. He immediately made the transition to coaching after that.

Westphal began his coaching tenure at Southwestern Baptist Bible in 1985, spending two seasons with the program before heading to Grand Canyon. He would make it to the NBA as an assistant with the Suns from 1988-โ€™92, before becoming the teamโ€™s coach for the 1992-โ€™93 season. The Suns reached the NBA Finals in his first season as head coach. but lost in six games to Michael Jordanโ€™s Chicago Bulls.

He would take over as the Seattle SuperSonics coach, holding that role from 1998-’00. After that, he went to the college ranks and coached at Pepperdine. Westphal made his way back to the NBA as an assistant coach from 2007-’08 with the Dallas Mavericks, before serving as the Sacramento Kings head coach from 2009-’12.

Paul Westphal stepped away from the NBA for good in 2016, following a stint as an assistant for the Brooklyn Nets. He finished his coaching career with a 318-279 record in the regular season and a 27-22 mark in the playoffs. As a player, Westphal scored 12,809 points with 3,591 assists and 1,022 steals.

Sports world mourns the loss of Paul Westphal

After passing away following a hard-fought battle with brain cancer, the basketball world mourned the loss and paid tribute to their friend and a basketball icon.