By Scottsdale Pinetop
Almost one year ago, basketball fans from around the world were shaken to their core after the passing of legendary basketball superstar Kobe Bryant in a tragic helicopter crash on January 26. And as we eagerly look forward towards a new year, we start by saying goodbye to yet another basketball Hall of Famer.
Paul Westphal, former Phoenix Suns basketball star and Hall of Famer, passed away in Scottsdale this week at age 70 after his battle with brain cancer after he was diagnosed last August.
Westphal’s dedication and service to the game will be cemented in Arizona’s basketball playbook and his legacy will be remembered by sports fans alike.
In 1974, Westphal joined the Phoenix Suns after being traded by the Celtics. It’s here that Westphal helped the Suns to reach their first-ever NBA Finals appearance against his former team, the Celtics, in 1976. In Game 5 of the series, dubbed “the greatest game ever played in NBA history” by sports critics, he completed several critical plays that almost led to their victory. Westphal completed his professional playing career with the Phoenix Suns in 1984.
Westphal’s hustle wasn’t just on the court, but also on the sidelines.
At the local level, Westphal’s college coaching career began at Southwestern Baptist Bible College, now known as Arizona Christian University, in 1985 where he led them to the NAIA national title in 1988. He went on to coach at Grand Canyon College and Pepperdine.
In 1988, returned to the Phoenix Suns as assistant coach and led the Suns to the NBA Finals in 1993 as head coach against the Chicago Bulls and made the playoffs every season Westphal served as head coach.
And in 2019, Westphal was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. In memory to the late basketball star, the Suns have decided to retire his No. 44 jersey.
Arizona sports fans have a long and complicated affection when it comes to our professional sports teams, especially the Phoenix Suns. But there is little doubt that Westphal’s profound legacy with Arizona helped propel the Sun’s reputation as a noteworthy professional sports team that it is today.
A true staple in sports history. Thank you for your service, entertainment and dedication to Arizona. You will be missed.