We are January 3, 2021, the Suns are dreaming again but Paul Westphal has just left us. It is sometimes said that chance does things well … Coincidence, a sign of fate or irony of fate, chance yesterday wanted the Cactus to find themselves at the top of the NBA – which had not happened to them for too long – the day when one of the franchise’s greatest legends died forever.
The entire NBA sphere has paid tribute and paid tribute to “Westy”, especially on the side of Boston where he began his playing career and on the side of Sacramento where he ended his career as a head-coach. Nevertheless, it is in Phoenix that the tears flow freely. Because after three first years of playing in the big green house of the Celtics and a ring gleaned with the 1974 team, Westphal is sent to Arizona in exchange for Charlies Scott. In his first season with the Suns (1975-76), he became the team’s top scorer and best player. He was immediately part of the leaders of a group that would go on to the Finals under the leadership of John McLeod, a coach from whom Westphal would later draw great inspiration. In the meantime, friend Paulo will above all be one of the main players in these Finals, lost to the… Celtics, but including this famous Game 5 still considered by many to be the match of the century. Just that. It must be said that beyond the magnificent level of play offered by the two teams, the scenario was worthy of James Ellroy. Three extensions is already rare at the base but then in a Finals match, the examples can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
On these 1976 Finals, Paul Westphal is more than 20 points and more than 5 assists on average. You only have to hear how a monster how Bill Walton describes Westphal’s abilities to understand that with him the Suns are very serious for the first time in their history, still short at the time (franchise created in 1968):
“Paul Westphal was a creative genius. (when he attacked the circle) His body could go in one direction, his head in the other, his legs go in all directions… ”
The four seasons following the 1976 Finals can only prove Walton right. Paul Westphal continues the big performances and is All-Star four times in a row as Cactus. Westy expresses all his combo-guard talent. Uncontrollable slasher and able to shoot around the perimeter, it is very difficult to prevent it from crashing. With 25.2 points on average over the 1977-78 fiscal year, he is in the top 10 scorers (6th). At the same time, he does not forget to also create for his teammates. The Alvan Adams, Walter Davis and Truck Robinson feast on caviar that their pal Westphal sends them.
The vagaries of the life of an NBA player will send this good Paulo first to Seattle, then to New York before bringing him back to Phoenix for a final season, just to hang up the sneakers for good in 1984. Very soon after his retirement , he will be solicited as a coach by universities in Arizona. He cut his teeth there for three years before joining the Suns and Cotton Fitzsimmons staff as an assistant. From 1988 to 1992, Paul Westphal learned. The Suns are a strong team in the league with two straight years (1989 and 1990) reaching the Conference Finals. Then, in the summer of 1992, he was given the reins. And the least we can say is that the result was convincing. Westphal will take charge of the Suns who have just welcomed among them a certain Charles Barkley and immediately make him the most successful squad of cacti that Arizona has known.
The best offense in the league, Charles Barkley MVP, a very honorable defense, lieutenants and role players who know and understand their places perfectly, what they must do to win. And it wins! 62 times in regular to start then it dominates all the West in Playoffs to face the Bulls in Finals and to undergo the perfect and unreal score of Michael Jordan. By the way, match 3 of these 1993 Finals only found its winner after three extra times. Paul Westphal will therefore have been a major player in two of the most incredible Finals games in NBA history. A coincidence ? Perhaps. But no surprise to see the Suns, back to the wall, win this meeting since their coach had already gone through this kind of match.
No other member of the Suns’ organization has come so close to giving Phoenix a title as Westy. No.
That’s why when Paul Westphal was diagnosed with brain cancer last August, great concern swept through the dry lands of Arizona and the thoughts of all Suns fans. A concern that gave way yesterday to immense sadness, that of a family which has just lost one of its pillars.
As a bonus, here is Paul Westphal’s Hall of Fame induction speech. An example of humility and foresight.