SuperSonics head coach Paul Westphal reacts in the first quarter of a game against the Jazz on April 24, 2000, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

SuperSonics head coach Paul Westphal reacts in the first quarter of a game against the Jazz on April 24, 2000, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

Former Sonics player, coach Westphal dies at age 70

The NBA Hall of Famer played for Seattle in the 1980-81 season and coached it from 1998-2001.

By Beth Harris / Associated Press

Paul Westphal, a Hall of Fame NBA player who won a championship with the Boston Celtics in 1974 and later coached in the league and in college, died Saturday. He was 70.

He died in Scottsdale, Arizona, according to a statement from Southern California, where Westphal starred in college. He was diagnosed with brain cancer last August.

A five-time All-Star guard, Westphal played in the NBA from 1972-84, including a stint with the Seattle SuperSonics where he averaged 16.7 points per game in 1980-81. After winning a championship with the Celtics, he made the finals in 1976 with Phoenix, where he was a key part of one of the most riveting games in league history. He also played for Seattle and the New York Knicks.

He averaged 15.6 points, 4.4 assists and 1.9 rebounds during his career.

After his playing career ended, Westphal moved into coaching. He led the Suns to the NBA Finals in 1993, and also was head coach of Seattle and Sacramento. He had stints as an assistant with Dallas and Brooklyn.

“There may be just a handful of people who have as much influence and significance on the history of the Phoenix Suns,” former team owner Jerry Colangelo said. “All he accomplished as a player and as a coach. Off the court, he was a gentleman, a family man, great moral character. He represented the Suns the way you want every player to represent your franchise.”

At the college level, Westphal coached at Southwestern Baptist Bible College (now Arizona Christian University), Grand Canyon and Pepperdine.

Westphal played at USC from 1968-72, and the Trojans honored him with a moment of silence before their game Saturday. His No. 25 jersey hangs in the Galen Center rafters. He led the Trojans to a 24-2 record in 1971. The following year, he was an All-American and team captain who led the Trojans with a 20.3-point average.

Born on Nov. 30, 1950, in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance, Paul Douglas Westphal was drafted 10th overall in the first round of the 1972 NBA draft by the Celtics. The 6-foot-4 guard spent three seasons in Boston before being traded to Phoenix.

In 1976, Westphal helped the Suns reach their first NBA Finals against the Celtics. Game 5, a triple-overtime thriller in that series, is often called “the greatest game ever played.”

The Suns trailed 94-91 in the closing seconds of regulation when Westphal stole the ball from JoJo White and got fouled. His 3-point play tied the game at 94.

In the second overtime, with 15 seconds left and the Suns trailing 109—108, Westphal stole the ball from John Havlicek, who had taken an inbounds pass. That led to a sequence in which the Suns scored to take a 110-109 lead.

Havlicek scored with five seconds left to put the Celtics ahead 111—110. The buzzer sounded and Celtics flooded the court, believing their team had won. However, the referee ruled that Havlicek scored with two seconds remaining.

One second was put back on the clock. Westphal called for a timeout that the Suns didn’t have, resulting in a technical foul. The Celtics made the free throw for a 112-110 lead. After a timeout, the Suns inbounded at midcourt and scored to force a third overtime.

With 20 seconds left and the Celtics leading 128—122, Westphal scored two quick baskets to cut it to 128—126 and nearly stole the ball at midcourt, but failed and the Celtics ran out the clock to win.

The Suns retired his No. 44 jersey.

“Throughout the past 40 years, Westy has remained a great friend of the organization and as a trusted sounding board and confidant for me,” Suns manager partner Robert Sarver said. “His number 44 will forever hold its place in our Ring of Honor, enshrined as one of the utmost deserving members.”

Westphal returned to the Suns as an assistant in 1988.

“He led by example,” said Eddie Johnson, 1989 Sixth Man of the Year. “He didn’t change off of the court. It’s just a positive atmosphere that he exudes when he’s around. He always greets you with a pleasant smile. You always feel like you are a part of his clique. He’s somebody we can put on a pedestal.”

Westphal was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 2019. He went into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.

He is survived by his wife, Cindy, and two children.

Talk to us

More in Sports

The Herald’s Athlete of the Week poll.
Vote for The Herald’s Prep Athlete of the Week for April 12-18

The Athlete of the Week nominees for April 12-18. Voting closes at… Continue reading

Washington's Lauren Sanders, center, spikes the ball against Dayton's Lexie Almodovar, left, and Lindsey Winner, right, in the third set during an NCAA volleyball tournament in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
Glacier Peak grad Sanders climbs UW volleyball record books

The senior middle blocker has made an impact on and off the court for the Sweet 16-bound Huskies.

Minnehaha Academy's Chet Holmgren, the No. 1 NCAA college basketball recruit in the country, gestures during a press conference where he announced he will be attending Gonzaga University to play basketball, Monday, April 19, 2021, in Minneapolis. Chet is flanked by his father, David Holmgren, left, and mother, Sarah Harris, right.  (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)
Top recruit Chet Holmgren heads to Gonzaga, Suggs to NBA

Like Suggs, the 7-foot-1-inch star from Minnesota will likely play only one season before jumping to the pros.

Monroe's Trey Lane runs the ball during the game against Lake Stevens on Friday, March 12, 2021 in Monroe, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
All-Wesco teams announced for traditional fall sports

The standouts from the shortened fall sports season.

Kamiak's Cade Weatherbie and Meadowdale's River Stewart fall while fighting for the ball during the game on Friday, April 16, 2021 in Mukilteo, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
GALLERY: Kamiak shuts out Meadowdale in boys soccer

Westin Joyner and Junior Phomnath combine for the clean sheet in the Knights’ 3-0 win.

Prep sports roundup.
Prep results for Friday, April 16

Prep results for Friday, April 16 (check back frequently for updates): (Note… Continue reading

FILE - Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch walks off the field after NFL football practice in Renton, Wash., in this Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, file photo. During Marshawn Lynch’s 12 NFL seasons he earned a reputation for his fearless style on the field, while remaining one of the league’s most reclusive figures off the field. Now the retired running back is lending his voice to try to help members of Black and Hispanic communities make more informed decisions about receiving COVID-19 vaccines. Lynch released a 30-minute interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci on his YouTube channel Friday, April 16, 2021, becoming the latest prominent athlete to sit down with him to discuss the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines as the U.S. continues to combat the pandemic.  (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Marshawn Lynch discusses vaccine hesitancy with Dr. Fauci

The former Seahawks star is hoping to help Black and Hispanic communities make informed decisions.

Exterior of the new Quil Ceda Creek Casino on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2020 in Marysville, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Tulalip Tribes reach deal with state on sports betting

If all goes to plan, the tribes could get federal approval for sports books at two casinos by the fall.

Most Read