Original Old School: Long Time Coming

by January 22, 2011

Paul Silas

SLAM: It’s amazing how many of you from those teams have become coaches: yourself, Cowens, Don Nelson, Paul Westphal, Don Chaney. Do you think Red had a big influence on all of you?

SILAS: That’s part of it, but as I said, all of those guys were so intelligent about the game that it’s a natural carryover. Really, we played like a bunch of coaches. We were always talking the game together, which seemed natural in that environment. We all sort of fed off of each other, and it was good.

SLAM: I asked Bob McAdoo who was the dirtiest played her played against, and he said, “The entire Celtics team, because they could get away with anything and they did.”

SILAS: [Laughs] I don’t necessarily think we were dirty. We played tough and we played hard. When I got to the Celtics, Dave was already there, and I really helped him rebound a lot by being tougher. It’s like everything else: when you’re on top, the tendency is for the refs to overlook certain things. Look at the Bulls now; other players will tell you that they get all the calls or they are a dirty team. But I don’t think they are at all, and I don’t think that we were a dirty team at all. The way we played, you had to scratch and claw for everything against us, because we weren’t going to give it up. And some guys didn’t have that same toughness.

SLAM: Before I even finished that last question, you were cracking up. Did you think I was going to say that he accused you of being the dirtiest player?

SILAS: [Laughs] I did, yes. I have heard people say that I was a dirty player, but I don’t think I was at all. I played tough, I played hard and I all the little things that it took for me to be successful. I wasn’t blessed with a great jumper or whatever, and I had to go inside and work it. I was very tencaious, and very few guys like to play against someone who will just keep coming at you and never stop. That’s how I was, and that’s how Rodman is today. He just never quits. Some people will say that he’s dirty too, but I don’t think so at all. I would, however, say that there is an art of intimidation, and that you do try to intimidate someone as much as possible, to get that edge.

SLAM: Who was the best intimidator you ever saw?

SILAS: Maurice Lucas was a master. He would push and do anything to keep you off balance. Actually, he came into the league a few years after me, and I think he learned from watching me. In fact, he told me so. [Laughs] I remember one time playing against him in Portland. He was starting to run down the court, and I grabbed his jersey to stop him, and I was going to run by him, and he punched me as hard he could in the stomach. I didn’t want to acknowledge that he had hurt me, so I just kept running, and I was so out of it and just staring at the ref—who hadn’t seen a thing—that I ran right into Lionel Hollins, who wasn’t that type of player. He thought I had done it on purpose and went, “Come on, Paul, lay off. You’re killing me!” [Laughs] Yeah, Maurice and I used to have some real battles. It was a lot of fun, really.

SLAM: Who do you see that plays like that now, other than Rodman?

SILAS: The guy that we have here, Anthony Mason, plays like that. He’s not blessed with the great athletic ability in terms of leaping or things like that, but he is blessed with a great body, and he knows how to use it very, ery well. He holds and pushes and does whatever is necessary to get the job done. He’s old school all the way.

SLAM: The book Foul, about Connie Hawkins, paints an interesting picture of the late-’60s NBA–you come across as one of the few rational people around.

SILAS: [Laughs] Those were some troubling times in our country and thus in our league. There was a lot of militancy among young blacks at that time, and were striving for equality in our sport and as well in our nation. It was a tough and challenging time for everyone, but it was a good time for me, because I found a lot out about myself and about people in general.

When I got to Phoenix, I had been in the league for like five years and had strong opinions about a lot of things. I knew who I was and felt confident and comfortable with it. Throughout my playing career, I think I was underestimated as far as what I did for the team off the floor. I don’t think the significance of that was appreciated as much as someone who puts up 20 points. Whenever I left a team, they normally did not do as well as when I was there, and that’s something that I’m proud of.

SLAM: Is that something thtat you think is overlooked in players?

SILAS: Yeah. If you’ve got a guy that’s good off the floor and demands a lot from himself and everybody around him, that’s very important to a team. I don’t think that leadership qualities can be looked at lightly, though a lot of people underestimate those qualities. But they’re so important. A guy who can rally the team around him for a common goal is as important as the guy who goes out and gets you 20 points. If not more so.

SLAM: Who were the toughest opponents for you to guard?

SILAS: [Bob] Butterbean Love was awfully tough. Billy Cunningham was also damn tough, and Chet Walker used to give me fits. He had a great medium-range jumper and he was quick enough to get around me. If I got up on him, he went around me, and if I played off him, he’d nail the jumper. Billy was exactly the same. With Butter, he just could shoot over me, and with a great, great touch. He would get get in the pivot and just put the ball over his head, and there was nothing I could do. I remember one game, I held him to five points in the first half, and I was bragging, and he came back and got 33 on me in the second half. Another guy I had to guard, who put a lot of them in my eye, was Elvin Hayes–but my team usually won. Elvin was a great player, but until he got with Wes [Unseld] on the Bullets, he never could get over the hump.

SLAM: Which opponents did the most effective job keeping you off the boards?

SILAS: Guys who just concentrated on keeping me off the glass. If someone actually went for the rebound against me, I felt like I could beat them to it. The guys who had the most success were those whose main goal was to keep me off the board. Cleveland had a guy named Bobby “Bingo” Smith who did a good job on me, because all he concerned himself with was blocking me out. Guys who rebounded well themselves were the guys I had the most success with.