To understand Stephen Silas’s connection to Boston, consider his first words. “Jo Jo White,” says Silas laughing. White was a decade-long anchor of the 1970s Celtics and a teammate of Silas’s father, Paul, for four seasons. “Dad was pissed,” recalls Silas. “He wanted it to be Dad or Daddy. But I watched a lot of games back then. And I guess I said Jo Jo.”
Silas, the head coach of the Rockets, will be in Boston on Tuesday for the first time since Paul passed away earlier this month. Paul Silas played 16 seasons in the NBA as a bruising, 6’7″ forward. He was drafted by St. Louis, made his first All-Star team in Phoenix and won a title in Seattle. But there was one franchise he truly connected with. “Boston,” says Stephen. “He loved being a Celtic.”
Silas became a Celtic in 1972, when Boston acquired him from Phoenix. He made an All-Defensive team in ’73 (the year Stephen was born), won a championship in ’74 and another in ’76. His ability to bang on the inside freed Dave Cowens to play more on the perimeter. His willingness to come off the bench when needed gave the Celtics enviable depth. He was traded following the ’76 season after a contract dispute, a less-than-amicable parting both sides would later admit to regretting.
“Just think of the talent on those teams,” says Stephen. “Those teams with White and Cowens and John Havlicek. And I mean so many guys who were not only great basketball players, but a lot of them went on to be head coaches in the league. They were super smart and had high basketball IQs.”
Stephen, understandably, doesn’t remember much about his father’s Celtics years. But he remembers the stories. Of the daily conversations between Paul and team president Red Auerbach. “They really had a deep connection,” says Silas. Of Game 5 of the 1976 Finals, arguably the greatest NBA game ever played. Of the bond Silas formed with Cowens. Silas hated leaving Boston. “He wanted to be a Celtic forever,” says Stephen. Cowens hated it, too. In ’76, Cowens took a two-month hiatus from the Celtics—in part because Silas wasn’t going to be there. “It was a connection deeper than just being part of a team,” says Stephen. “They were like a family.”
Over the years, Stephen has maintained his own connection to that family. He worked at Cowens’s summer basketball camps. He kept up a friendship with Havlicek’s children, Chris and Jill. He served as an assistant for Don Nelson (who played 11 seasons with the Celtics) in Golden State. Early in his coaching career, he met Auerbach. They revisited the long talks Paul and Red had about coaching. “Red had a lot to do with my dad’s post playing career,” says Stephen. Auerbach would ask why the Brown-educated Stephen didn’t want to do something else.
For all of Paul Silas’s basketball accomplishments, he was most proud of Stephen’s. Stephen played four seasons at Brown—wearing No. 35, of course—before joining the NBA’s Retired Players Association. With Paul’s prodding, Stephen took a job as an advanced scout with Charlotte in 1999. A year later, he was on the Hornets’ bench. Whatever benefits Stephen reaped from being Paul’s son, he earned more. In Golden State, Silas is often credited for the early development of Stephen Curry. In Dallas, where Silas spent two seasons as Rick Carlisle’s lead assistant, he worked closely with Luka Dončić. When Houston hired Stephen in 2020, the first person he shared the news with was his dad.
“He was just so proud that I had reached the highest level of coaching in the best league in the world that he had held in such high regard,” says Silas. “Because he played in the league for 16 years, and then he coached in the league for 20 or so more. The NBA was his life. For me to be a head coach in the league was really just a proud, proud moment for him.”
Stephen will step on the familiar green parquet floor Tuesday. He will coach underneath 17 championship banners, two of which his father helped hang there. It will be a tall task for Houston. Boston is an NBA-best 24–10. The Rockets are a Western Conference–worst 10–23. But Houston has shown some signs of life in December. They won back-to-back games against Milwaukee and Phoenix. On Monday, they put up 133 points in a win over the Bulls. Armed with some compelling young talent—including Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr. and Kevin Porter Jr.—Silas has worked tirelessly to develop them. There have been ups and downs. Among the many things he will miss about Paul is the ability to talk to him about them.
“I miss him as a sounding board,” says Stephen. “And I miss him when things aren’t going great, as someone who can give me some advice. But I also miss him when things are great. He was someone I could share it with. The void is pretty big right now. But he gave me so many little things, big things over my career that I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”