Standing all of 6’1″, James Silas carried himself with all of the swash-buckling swagger of a carrack commander. His career numbers belie such confidence, though.
How could someone who averaged over 20 points per game just once, and had a career average of 16 points, be worthy of commandeering admiration? Especially considering that as a point guard he dished out over 5 assists per game just once, and had a career average of 3.8.
The answer lies in the fact that numbers can’t tell you exactly how a player plays. They show the final results of plays, they can be somewhat predicative, but they can’t fully tell you how a man plays. And James Silas was a man so full of big plays, timely counter moves, and cold-blooded veins that he was given the nickname “Captain Late”.
The good captain, the great commander, would show up time and time again to pull the San Antonio Spurs out of a fix. Yes, George Gervin and Larry Kenon may have scored more points throughout the course of their games, but Silas was the man they cleared out for in the final moments.
Using his stocky, well-built frame, Silas could back down opposing guards and rise up for jumpers near the basket. He was also fond of just taking it to the rack off the dribble and getting foul shots. For his career, Silas shots 49.5% from the field and 85.5% from the line. When he took his shot, he was gonna make it.
His fourth-quarter heroics and general dependability made Silas an All-ABA 1st Teamer in 1976, but that postseason he injured his knee in a collision against the New York Nets. For the next two seasons, his first two in the NBA, Silas was on the mend. Finally recovering for the 1978-79 season, Silas was again dependable, but not quite what he once was. Most noticeable was that the highest gear of his explosiveness had gone.
Silas retired from pro basketball in 1982 and became the first player in Spurs history to have his jersey retired.
The James Silas that NBA fans saw was a terrific player, but the one that a select few ABA fans saw was outstanding and legendary. Opposing coaches and the press recall Silas delivering multiple 20-point outbursts in fourth quarters. The season he busted his knee, Silas was one of the best guards in all of basketball.
The following comparison of stats from the 1975-76 season tells it all, really:
Silas – 23.8 PPG, 5.4 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 51.9% FG, 87.2% FT, 7.7 FTA
Gervin – 21.8 PPG, 2.5 APG, 6.7 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 49.9% FG, 85.7% FT, 4.9 FTA
The Ice Man’s uniquely brilliant finger roll got the headlines, but Silas was the engine driving the Spurs of the ABA. But this here is just the starting tale on Captain Late. There’s a lot more to know on this forgotten but fantastic San Antonio Spur.
Years Played: 1972 – 1982
All-ABA 1st Team (1976)
All-ABA 2nd Team (1975)
2x All-Star (1975-’76)
All-Rookie Team (1973)
ABA - 328 Games
18.2 PPG, 4.3 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 50.4% FG, 85.7% FT
NBA - 357 Games
14.2 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.1 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 48.5% FG, 85.2% FT
Contemporary ABA/NBA Ranks (1972-73 through 1981-82 season)
29th Points, 39th FGs Made
12th FTs Made, 8th FT%
23rd Assists, 35th APG
28th Games Played, 35th Minutes Played