Former Phoenix Suns player and coach Paul Westphal dead at 70

Jan 2, 2021, 1:39 PM | Updated: 4:15 pm
Enshrinee Paul Westphal gives his speech during the 2019 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Cerem...
Enshrinee Paul Westphal gives his speech during the 2019 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on September 06, 2019 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
(Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member and Phoenix Suns legend Paul Westphal died on Saturday at the age of 70.

Westphal was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2020, which was the cause of his death according to longtime friend and New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica.

Westphal anchored the Suns’ rotation between 1975-80, returned to finish his playing career in the 1983-84 season and then coached the team from 1992-1995.

He has been part of the Suns’ only two NBA Finals runs in franchise history.

Westphal was a star guard on the 1976 team that lost in the Finals to the Boston Celtics and the head coach of the 1993 Suns team that lost to the Chicago Bulls.

He launched his coaching career in the Valley, with stops at Southwest Baptist Bible College (now Arizona Christian University), before moving down the road to lead Grand Canyon College (now Grand Canyon University) to an NAIA championship in 1988.

Westphal stayed in the Valley to serve as an assistant coach for the Suns under Cotton Fitzsimmons before assuming the head coaching role himself in 1992.

His tenure in Phoenix wrapped up after coaching the Suns for four seasons, making the playoffs in 1994 and 1995.

He would go on to coach the Seattle SuperSonics and Sacramento Kings for three seasons apiece between 1998-2001 and 2009-12, finishing his NBA coaching career with a 318-279 record.

He last served as an assistant coach in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets under head coach Lionel Hollins during the 2014-15 season.

Tributes poured in commemorating Westphal on Saturday, remembering him for his impact on the game of basketball and beyond.

Jerry Colangelo, who owned the Suns during Westphal’s tenure as coach, remembered him as a fitting representative of the Suns as an organization.

“There may be just a handful of people who have as much influence and significance on the history of the Phoenix Suns,” Colangelo said in a team press release. “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.”

Current Suns owner Robert Sarver called Westphal a figure that will forever be remembered in the Valley.

“Westy will forever be remembered as a prominent Valley sports legend both on and off the court,” Sarver said in the release. “He built an illustrious career as both a player and a coach. His legacy ranks among the most quintessential basketball icons of all time.”

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