Paul Silas isn't getting around too well these days. His towering stature has been diminished by a slumping posture. He walks with a limp because of nerve problems in his left leg. And, in his most honest moment, he'd probably tell you he still has a sour taste in his mouth from being fired as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2005.
Still, as he shuffled around the Warriors' downtown Oakland practice facility and Oracle Arena on game nights, his beaming smile couldn't be missed; the twinkle in his squinted eyes was unmistakable. He's spending time with his only son.
"It's the best thing I've ever been through," Silas, 65, said of watching his son, Stephen, at work. "I like to brag on him. To anybody I see, 'Well, you know my son is an assistant coach with the Warriors.' I just love it."
Stephen Silas, 35, is in his third season as an assistant coach with Golden State, his eighth season on an NBA bench. Still, he can't take five steps without someone bringing up his legendary father, a standout player for most of his 16 NBA seasons (1964-1980) and a member of three NBA championship teams. Sometimes, they ask about his dad before asking about him.
Sometimes, they don't say hello. Sometimes, they mistakenly call him Paul.
"There is not a night that goes by, home or on the road," Stephen explains, "where somebody doesn't ask how he's doing, say something about him, how great he is. I love it. I love it. It never ever gets old. Referees, fans. Every night. 'How's he doing? Oh I saw him tonight. Tell him I said hello.' Asking for his address and all kinds of stuff. It's a little thing, but it really means a lot."
Paul and Stephen Silas are more like best friends than father and son. And their bond is something special, because it not only defies reality in the African-American family, it also survived the rigors of the NBA lifestyle.
"The one thing I admire more than anything," Paul said after a Warriors practice last month, "is that when he has problems he comes to his dad for advice. I couldn't go to my dad with my problems, but (Stephen) can come to me, and that just blows me away that we do have this relationship."
Paul can appear intimidating. As a player, he was a relative giant, known for his ability to throw around his 6-foot-7, 220-pound frame. Now, topping 300 pounds and carrying a legendary reputation, he looms even larger. His low-cut, salt-and-pepper 'fro and wrinkled mocha skin hints at his layers of experience.
As a player, he was bruising and gritty, as might be expected from someone who grew up idolizing Bill Russell. Silas was known for his defense and rebounding, two trademarks of the teams he coached.
Stephen is a less-imposing 6-foot-3 and might weigh 190 pounds in a wet denim tuxedo. His caramel complexion and youthful face is a tip o' the cap to his mom, Carolyn. His seemingly permanent smile is inviting and disarming.
Stephen was a finesse player who lived on his cerebral game and outside shooting stroke. His expertise now is offense and guard play, his area of emphasis with the Warriors.
"I like the contrast," Stephen said. "Being with him, and the stature he has, it's kind of hard to try to match it. That's tough to do. I was always comfortable being behind the scenes and being a little bit more quiet. So I don't feel any pressure or any inclination to be who I'm not. To be his son is great."
The Silases do share at least one trait: a dedicated work ethic.
Paul's perseverance was reflected in 12,357 career rebounds, 16th in NBA history. Stephen, too, is known for his grind.
His father gave him his start in coaching in Charlotte — first as a scout, then as an assistant coach — but he wasn't allowed to coast. Instead, his father made him work even harder, setting the tone for his budding coaching career.
"He understands how important it really is to be a step ahead," Warriors assistant coach Keith Smart said of Stephen, "and how much you have to work at it and prepare to do every single thing. From on the floor with players, to the one-on-one setting, to classroom film, to understanding the technologies of the game, to understanding the bench and managing the players. He has the whole package."
It's no surprise Stephen picked up those characteristics, inasmuch as he grew up idolizing his father. He memorized all his stats. He followed him around everywhere as a kid, to practice and to shoot-arounds. He soaked up all the stories.
He heard of his dad's days playing pickup games with the likes of Russell and K.C. Jones at DeFermery Park in west Oakland. He's fully aware of the 68-0 record and three Tournament of Champions titles McClymonds High won with Paul on its roster.
Stephen also heard about his dad's encounters with racism at Creighton University, about his classic stories of the ol' NBA and his on-the-court rivalry with Wes Unseld.
The pedestal upon which Stephen placed his father grew taller as Paul remained a reliable presence in his son's life. He attended most of Stephen's high school games and several college games, despite the demands of a hectic NBA schedule.
To this day, Stephen calls his father for advice, to vent, to glean bits of wisdom. Each time, Paul said, he gets warm and fuzzy inside. It's what the elder Silas always envisioned for his son, because he didn't have such a relationship with his own father.
"My father, although he was there, wasn't there," Paul said. "He was an alcoholic, and he never came to my games at all when I played, and I was the best player in Northern California at that time. I vowed that when my son grew up, I would always be there for him. And I was."
Paul beams with pride when he looks at Stephen. His son is a dedicated family man, an Ivy League graduate (Brown University), a hard-working professional. When Paul hears President Barack Obama imploring African-American men to man up, he knows the message is not addressed to his boy.
"It's because of him," Stephen said of his father. "His presence was always there. It was more I didn't want to disappoint him. To this day, I don't want to disappoint him. I think about that when things happen, I just don't want to disappoint my dad. That's something that's ingrained in me, and that's something that some kids don't have. It's hard to start without that base. It's hard to get to where you want to be without being held accountable for what you do and not having that role model teaching you the right way to be a man. I'm blessed to be able to have that."
Contact Marcus Thompson II at email@example.com.