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Remembering Paul Westphal

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

My first recollection of Paul Westphal is when I was a kid collecting baseball, football and basketball cards.

I had a card of Westphal from when he was on the Phoenix Suns. If I remember right it was around 1980 and Westphal was ballin’. He was in the middle of what proved to be a Hall of Fame career.

I then began to hear even more about him and his legacy in the So Cal area as a high school phenom at Aviation High and ruling the courts in the Torrence area. His USC career was productive and his NBA career reached heights that only few have ever achieved. I felt like I knew him because I was following him but really didn’t know him.

His post career he became a coach. After a couple of seasons as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns he got the head coaching job of the team he helped once take to the Finals as a player. In his first year in Phoenix, he had a special team that had the best record in the NBA. That leads me to another memory that has stuck with me to this day.

His Phoenix Suns were the #1 seed and they were playing the 8th seeded Los Angeles Lakers in a best of 5 series. The Lakers went into Phoenix and stunned the Suns in game 1 and backed it up with another victory in game 2. The postgame audio that day was legendary and a moment I will never forget.

When Westphal opened the press conference he said, “I know what the question is going to be, ‘is your team dead?’ No, we are going to win the series. We are going to LA and win on Tuesday, then on Thursday and come back here and win on Sunday and everyone will say what a great series it was.”

So bold, so brash, but in a gentleman way he delivered a confidence in his team and his prediction was 100 percent correct. Too this day, I will still use that quote in some way shape or form in reference to something bold, even if it is in my everyday life.

Now let’s take you to 2009 when the Sacramento Kings announced that Paul Westphal would be the next coach of the Kings.

I had already covered the team since 1994 but this was the time I was filling in on games for the “G-man”, Gary Gerould. So I would get about 10-12 games a year and this is when I would get an opportunity to interview coach before the games I called on the radio.

My favorite part was never the interview itself, but the few minutes before and after to talk hoops, current events, or just life in general. He liked to talk about other things because he was far more well rounded than just a “basketball guy.” He would ask about my life, the radio station, my opinion on the Kings. I always found that part interesting. One day, I asked him about that. Why are you asking me about the team? He said, “you are here everyday, you know the game, you know the team, just curious about another opinion on the team.”

He did an amazing job of making you feel like you were a part of the team.

One of the years that he was in Sacramento we received a Christmas card from his family. When I thanked him for that, he said “Ah, that’s my wife she takes care of all of that. “ I found that to be amusing as well because I never met Cindy and she had to get my name, and information from somewhere.

Coach had a good way about him, was very likable and I will truly miss him. I wish he had more success as a coach in Sacramento but he certainly will never be forgotten.

Rest in peace coach.