One unforgettable memory of Paul Silas, a longtime NBA player (1964-80), assistant coach and head coach (1980-2012) in various coaching roles) who died on Sunday, was his embrace of basketball fundamentals and hard work. There were no shortcuts to success, according to Silas.

I attended the Phoenix Suns-Cleveland Cavaliers game on Dec. 1, 2004, and wrote a column about LeBron James the next day. LeBron, then 19 (a few weeks shy of his 20th birthday), was in his second year in the league, playing for his first NBA coach.

Nearly 20 years later, the play-by-play details of that game (the Suns won, 120-101) don’t stand out to me, but the perspective that Silas possessed at every practice and every game while looking at the big picture about LeBron’s career still resonate with me.

Silas spoke about LeBron’s growth as a young player after the game.

“He’s playing much better defense, because he had to on the Olympic team just to play,” Silas said that night in Arizona. “I think that helped him.”

Silas, of course, was absolutely right, and he helped plant the seeds of LeBron’s growth as an all-around player early in the future Hall of Famer’s career. As a basketball mentor for decades, Silas left a lasting impact on the game long after he grabbed his final rebound, set his final pick and scored his final bucket.