Paul Westphal, the longtime Phoenix player and coach known lovingly as “Westy,” passed away on Saturday at age 70 after a battle with brain cancer.
Few names were more synonymous with Suns basketball than Westphal, and his sterling reputation was confirmed when tributes from around the Valley and the broader NBA world began pouring in after the announcement and confirmation from the Suns around midday.
“There may be just a handful of people who have as much influence and significance on the history of the Phoenix Suns,” Jerry Colangelo said in a statement released by the Suns. “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.”
Westphal played six of his 12 seasons with the Suns, then jumped to the coaching bench a short time later, where he served as an assistant on Cotton Fitzsimmons’ staff before replacing Fitzsimmons in 1992. Westphal was part of the only two NBA Finals teams in Suns history, first as a player in 1976 during his first year in Phoenix and then in 1993 during his first season as head coach.
“Westy will forever be remembered as a prominent Valley sports legend both on and off the court,” said Robert Sarver in a statement. “He built an illustrious career as both a player and a coach. His legacy ranks among the most quintessential basketball icons of all time.”
Since his time with the Suns came to an end, Westphal has remained a beloved part of the Suns’ legacy and the Valley community.
“Throughout the past 40 years, Westy has remained a great friend of the organization and as a trusted sounding board and confidant for me,” Sarver continued in the team’s statement. “His number 44 will forever hold its place in our Ring of Honor, enshrined as one of the utmost deserving members.”
As recently as 2016, Westphal served as an assistant coach on the Nets’ staff, a testament to his passion for the game and wide range of connections across the NBA.
First, a post from this fall started to circulate from Westy’s wife, Cindy, writing on his Facebook page about a visit head coach Monty Williams paid to the couple after the team got back from the Bubble in Orlando.
PHOENIX SUNS COACH MONTY WILLIAMS ~ At 4am I woke up with a splitting headache. I’ve never met Monty before but found...Posted by Paul Westphal on Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Despite having hardly any relationship with Westy, Williams made a point of visiting his Suns predecessor and the two bonded over mutual friends, their faith, and the joy of coaching.
Longtime Celtics beat reporter Bob Ryan, who covered Westphal as he began his career in Boston and into the 1976 Finals when the young guard jumped ship, tipped his cap on Twitter to the late basketball legend.
You know the old cliche, “He was a better person than he was a player?” That the Gospel truth about Hall of Famer Paul Westphal. He died this morning from the effects of a brain tumor.— Bob Ryan (@GlobeBobRyan) January 2, 2021
Our own Sam Cooper shared an incredible clip of Westphal and Cedric Ceballos discussing a game-winning play in the playoffs.
Paul Westphal talking about the greatest play he ever drew up.— Sam Cooper (@scooperhoops) January 2, 2021
RIP Coach pic.twitter.com/nHZe1NQVOg
Basketball historian Curtis Harris shared a clip of Westphal’s signature twisting jump shot.
RIP to Paul Westphal, king of the off-balance twirling shot pic.twitter.com/hUJ8A4XMCh— Pro Hoops History (@ProHoopsHistory) January 2, 2021
Longtime Valley sports reporter Cameron Cox of Channel 12 put together a mix of photos from all the visits various Suns-adjacent people made to Westphal’s home over the course of the year after his diagnosis, including Charles Barkley, Suns communications VP Julie Fie, and head coach Monty Williams.
Paul Westphal spent the last few months of his life surrounded my so many people that loved him. It became a weekly thing to check his Facebook page, see who stopped by and read the story behind their friendship or a life adventure. It always brought me to tears. (1/3) #12Sports pic.twitter.com/6trf1okhbx— Cameron Cox (@CamCox12) January 2, 2021
Fox Sports Arizona Suns TV producer Bob Adloch shared how a round with Westphal was the best round of golf on the planet, as well as a photo of himself, Westy and Tom Leander together.
Sad to hear the news of Paul Westphal passing today. Great player and coach - and such a wonderful man. This was maybe the most enjoyable round of golf I’ve ever played. 18 holes of great stories and conversation. Rest in peace Westy pic.twitter.com/onnkvLgMwo— Bob Adlhoch (@badlhoch) January 2, 2021
Celtics GM Danny Ainge, who competed against Westy as a player and played for him as a coach, called Westphal “one of my all time favorite people I’ve met in this business.”
I’m so sad to hear that we lost Paul Westphal. I loved watching him play at USC and in Boston and Phoenix! I was blessed to have known him as Coach and as a man of God. He was one of my all time favorite people I’ve met in this business God bless Cindy and her family❤️#RIP #44— Danny Ainge (@danielrainge) January 2, 2021
The famous clip of Westy calling his shot and the Suns’ after they went down 0-2 to the Lakers in the playoffs started to recirculate, too.
Down 0-2 against the Lakers, Paul Westphal guaranteed the Suns would bounce back to win the series. The rest is history. #Since68 #RamCountry @RamTrucks pic.twitter.com/dnIHALEdsg— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) January 3, 2018
No matter when you became a Suns fan, we all owe a lot to Westy for helping to make this franchise what it is today. That so many folks around the league jumped to tell stories of his kindness and wisdom is only further proof of how profoundly he touched the lives of Valley hoops fans and anyone who cares about the NBA.
Westy is immortalized in any highlight of the 1976 or 1993 teams, and his name will forever live in the Suns Ring of Honor, but as we saw this morning after the news of his death was announced, he lives most prominently in the hearts and minds of those who were fortunate enough to cross paths with him.