NBA Hall of Famer and Torrance native Paul Westphal died on Saturday at the age of 70 due to complications from a brain tumor.
Westphal starred at Aviation High in Redondo Beach, earning Mr. Basketball USA honors in 1968 before playing basketball at USC for three seasons from 1969-72.
Westphal, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in August of 2020, played at USC from 1968-72, and the Trojans honored him with a moment of silence before their game Saturday at the Galen Center, where his No. 25 jersey hangs from the rafters.
He was named to the All-Pac-8 first team in 1970 and 1971 (when he led the Trojans to a 24-2 record) and second-team All-Pac-8 in 1972, when he led the Trojans with a 20.3-point average. He also earned second-team All-American honors from the Associated Press in 1971 and the NABC in 1972. His number was retired by USC in 2007 and he was elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.
Westphal was selected 10th overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1972 NBA draft. He won an NBA championship in Boston in 1974 and a year later was traded to the Suns.
It was in Phoenix where Westphal reached his heights as a player, helping lead the Suns to their first NBA Finals in 1976 against the Celtics. The series is remembered for its dramatic, triple-overtime Game 5 in which Westphal made several clutch plays to prolong the game before Boston won by two on their way to a six-game series victory.
He reached the All-Star Game in five consecutive seasons starting in 1977 and earned All-NBA first-team honors three times with the Suns. He was traded to the SuperSonics following the 1979-80 and earned his final All-Star appearance in his one year in Seattle. He spent two seasons with the New York Knicks before returning to Phoenix for one final season before retirement.
The Suns’ fifth all-time leading scorer, Westphal had his No. 44 retired by Phoenix 1989. He was elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2019.
Westphal went on to a coaching career, starting at the college level before returning to the Suns as an assistant coach in 1988. He was named head coach in 1992 led the Suns to the NBA Finals in his first season, losing to the Bulls in six games.
Danny Ainge played for Westphal, who is survived by his wife, Cindy, and two children, when he coached the Suns from 1992-95. The Celtics president shared his saddened reaction to Westphal’s death.
“I’m so sad to hear that we lost Paul Westphal,” Ainge wrote on Twitter. “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.”
Former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo also spoke highly of Westphal.
“There may be just a handful of people who have as much influence and significance on the history of the Phoenix Suns,” Colangelo said. “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 also spent time as head coach for Seattle (1998-2000), Pepperdine (2001-2006) and the Sacramento Kings (2009-2012).