Report: Paul Westphal has been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame

Paul Westphal Phoenix Suns Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Paul Westphal Phoenix Suns Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images /

Paul Westphal is one of the Phoenix Suns’ most important figures in it’s history, and will soon be recognized with enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, former Phoenix Suns legend Paul Westphal has been elected into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Phoenix Suns are one of the most storied franchise’s in NBA history, and at the heart of two of their best seasons ever is one man: Paul Westphal.

Prior to his acquisition by the Phoenix Suns in 1975 for Charlie Scott (both teams also swapped second round picks), Westphal had languished on the Boston Celtics’ bench for the first three seasons of his career – although winning a title in 1974 in which he played in all 18 playoff games.

With Phoenix though, General Manager Jerry Colangelo intended on Westphal starting, a plan that played out to perfection.

Westphal made an immediate impact on the young franchise (he was teamed up with Rookie of the Year Alvan Adams, Dick Van Arsdale, Curtis Perry, Gar Heard and Pat Riley, among others), averaging 20.5 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.2 rebounds (all career-highs at the time) while shooting a scorching 49.4% from the field.

The “Sunderella Suns” turned in a 42-40 1975-76 regular season record (finishing 24-13 down the stretch), eventually knocking off the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors in seven games in the Western Conference Finals, placing them against Westphal’s former Celtics in the Suns’ first NBA Finals appearance.

Westy, as he was affectionately known, averaged 21.1 points and 5.1 assists in the playoffs, and was the mastermind behind the infamous timeout/technical in the second OT of game 5 at the Boston Garden.

Westphal called a timeout the Suns didn’t have, knowing that the result would be a technical foul, but allowed for the ball to be moved up to half court where Curtis Perry found Gar Heard for a turnaround jumper at the buzzer to send the game into a record 3rd overtime.

Following the Finals, the NBA subsequently changed that rule – because of him (more on that below).

Westphal’s scoring jumped to new career-highs in each of his subsequent two seasons (his 25.2ppg in 1977-78 remains the 8th best single-season scoring record in franchise history to this day), earning four consecutive All-Star appearances (and a fifth consecutive in 1980-81 following a trade to Seattle for Dennis Johnson), each season leading Phoenix in scoring while the team reached franchise-records in wins in each of those seasons as well (49-T in 1977-78, 50 in 1978-79, and 55 in 1979-80).

He would unfortunately leave on poor terms because of a contract dispute with Colangelo, but after three combined seasons with the Seattle Supersonics (2) and the New York Knicks (1), the two sides mended fences and Westphal played his final NBA season in 1983-84 (at age 33) back in Phoenix where he rode off into the sunset.

In his Phoenix Suns playing career, aside from his All-Star appearances, he was also named to the All-NBA First Team three times and All-NBA Second team once as well. His 25.2 points per game in 1977-78 was 6th highest in the league that year.

It should be noted that Westphal also won the NBA’s first-ever H-O-R-S-E competition during the 1977-78 regular season, finishing with H-O, defeating “Pete Maravich” (who actually did not participate in the Final competititon because of injury and Westy actually faced off against Rick Berry wearing a paper bag), Kevin Grevey, and Maurice Lucas. Westphal nailed a free throw blind-folded winning the title.

Due to his dominance, the league would retire the competition for 31 years when it was re-instated for two seasons in 2009 and ’10, where Kevin Durant broke Westy’s record by winning the competition twice.

Following his retirement in 1984, Westphal would enter coaching, first with Southwestern Baptist Bible in 1985-86 before taking over Grand Canyon University in 1986 where he would lead the ‘Lopes to an NAIA Championship in 1988.

With opportunities of an NBA coaching career on the horizon, Westphal left GCU that summer when he was hired by the Phoenix Suns in a unique Assistant Coach/future Head Coaching position alongside Cotton Fitzsimmons.

Cotton took over the Suns’ lead role in 1988, but under the condition that his tenure would be short-term. On his staff he added Westphal as his lead assistant, with the guarantee that he would be the team’s future head coach once Cotton retired.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

On April 15, 1989, near the end of his first season on the bench, the Suns made Westphal the franchise’s fourth former player to have his number retired (44).

When Colangelo secured funding for a new downtown arena, Cotton regularly said that he would never coach there, and near the end of the 1991-92 regular season, he made the announcement that he would be retiring following the playoffs and Westphal would officially take over with America West Arena opening up the following fall.

And what a smooth transition that was.

That offseason Phoenix acquired Charles Barkley, and with a team centered around him, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Danny Ainge, Cedric Ceballos, Tom Chambers, Mark West, Oliver Miller, and others, Westphal led Phoenix to a franchise-best 62-20 record, and the franchise’s second appearance in the NBA Finals – Westy being the only person to have either played on or been on the bench during both of the franchise’s two Finals appearances (although Colangelo was the GM for both occasions, Joe Proski was the Head Athletic Trainer, and Al McCoy was the lead radio/television announcer).

Phoenix enjoyed supreme success during Westphal’s first three years as Head Coach finishing 177-69 over that stretch, although never making it over the hump and back into the Finals, nor winning a single title.

In 1995-96, the Suns began to slip, and after a 14-19 start, he was fired, and Fitzsimmons returned to the bench (injuries decimated the team and Majerle was traded to Cleveland for John “Hot Rod” Williams, but Cotton managed to nurse the team with rookie Michael Finley to a 41-41 record, but a first round exit to San Antonio).

Westy was not out of basketball for long and took over as head coach for Seattle in 1998 (for two and a half seasons), returned to college basketball where he led Pepperdine for five seasons (they made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2001 and one subsequent NIT run), before resuming his NBA coaching career with the Dallas Mavericks as an assistant in 2007-08, the Sacramento Kings as head coach from 2009-2012, and most recently with the Brooklyn Nets as an assistant from 2014-16.

Must Read. The Phoenix Suns should clear the bench to end the season. light

When official, Paul Westphal will become the 13th former member of the Phoenix Suns organization (between management, coaches, and players) to be inducted into the Hall of Fame (following Charles Barkley, Gail Goodrich, Connie Hawkins, Grant Hill, Dennis Johnson, Gus Johnson, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal, Charlie Scott, Rick Welts, and Jerry Colangelo), and the second to have served multiple roles for the Phoenix Suns, as both a player and coach, along with Colangelo as general manager, head coach, and owner.