Phoenix Suns legend Paul Westphal dies; what he meant to the game

One of the most iconic NBA players of the 1970s, a man who made a serious impact in what some consider the greatest game in the history of basketball, has died. 

Paul Douglas Westphal died of brain cancer yesterday at the age of 70 in his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. His alma mater, the University of Southern California, confirmed his passing in a statement via Twitter. 

Westphal was a player and coach who participated in many historic moments in the history of the NBA. He averaged 15.6 points per game over the course of his career. After an All-American career at USC, he was drafted as the 10th pick in the first round by the Boston Celtics.

However, his career as a player and coach with the Phoenix Suns is where his NBA legacy stems from. 

The 1976 NBA Finals matched Westphal up against his former team, the Boston Celtics. Westphal made pivotal plays in Game Five of that series, which went to three overtimes and is considered by some to be the greatest NBA game ever played. His three point play after a steal is what tied the game at 94, and sent the game to its first overtime. He made a key steal on fellow Hall of Famer the late John Havlicek that helped give the Suns a 110-109 lead in the second overtime. But Havlicek would respond with a bucket of his own, which gave Boston the lead with two seconds left. After a mob scene on the parkay floor insured, there were two seconds on the clock. Westphal then called a timeout that Phoenix did not have, and was called for a technical. The Suns were able to force a third overtime, but fell 128-126 to fall behind 3-2 in the series. Boston would beat Phoenix at home to win the championship.

After a twelve year, five time All-Star career in the NBA, Westphal became a college coach. He had stops at Arizona Cristian University, Grand Canyon and Pepperdine. Westphal was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.

“Whenever you’ve watched a legendary coach like him who is a visionary of the game you respect him,” said Kent State men’s basketball coach Rob Senderoff.

In 1988 the Suns hired him as an assistant coach. He then became head coach and led the Suns to their most recent trip to the NBA finals during an MVP season by hall of famer Charles Barkley in 1993. The Suns faced Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and lost in six games. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on September 6th, 2019. 


Westphal is survived by his wife Cindy, two children, and four grandchildren. 

 Dante Centofanti is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected]