Unrelated, here’s a short q + a I did with Rashard Lewis for SLAM.
What can this cat not do?
SLAM published my updated version of this in issue 117. LeBron is featured. Go get it!
Moral Ruggedness by Michael Tillery
Chris Paul is the disparate of present day NBA existence. There isn’t a player in the league shutting him down alone, but he chooses to create an atmosphere of team unity every young player should want to implement into their own game. He is a new age personality in sports and will leave an impression on not only the sport of basketball, but society with his down to earth charitable contributions. Entering his third year in the league Paul is Smooth Jazz off the floor and Hardcore Hip Hop when terrorizing the psyche of opposing coaches and fans alike. He demands respect league wide that has nothing to do with his clean cut looks which will assuredly suit him professionally off the court. When the lights come on, CP is a straight up killer. Knowledge and experience are his desire and the pill his weapon. If you don’t throw constant double teams his way, he will rip your team’s morale down from the rafters and squash any hope of winning.
Superman about to get boofed on
There is a sense of urgency that rests with CP. Like so many athletes of his ability, tragedy has struck twice to those influential in his professional athletic formulation. One was his grandfather. Nathaniel Jones was as close to Chris as any other, and the life unfair chose to tear away the soul behind CP’s early development. Jones was beaten to death during a 2002 robbery and Chris was devastated. I could see the reality of loss in the eyes of the young and accomplished. This was a turning point in CP’s life and fortunately, Chris has strength and armor surrounding his promise and potential. These are his words describing what Jones meant to him personally: “My Grand dad was my best friend. He passed away the day after signing my letter of intent (Wake Forest). Five days later we have the funeral and I thought there would be no better way to honor him but score a point for every year of his life. About three minutes left, I hit for 61 on a three point play. I threw the free throw out of bounds and walked off the court.”
He’s such an unselfish player and could have won the state scoring title, but his priority was to cherish the memory of his grandfather.
Find the lesson in his words.
Another was the recent passing of his coach at Wake Forest, Skip Prosser to a heart attack. Life pains in a cleansing way to make us sane. “He believed in me. He was one of the first people to have the ultimate confidence in me. He gave me the opportunity to play basketball at the highest level at that time. He gave me a chance. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
The making of CP3
Death either locks up in the past, or liberates your future.
David West is coming into his own this season and mourns the loss of Prosser as well. He played two years for Skip during his tenure at Xavier. He speaks candidly about a responsibility he personally shares with Paul which propagates a team unified sense of urgency to win, “Night in and night out”, West states, “I know CP is looking for me. I’m his number one target. He gets mad when I don’t shoot it because I take away from his assists. That’s a good thing. It shows the confidence he has in his teammates. I want to play with him because of it. His attitude rubs off on all of us. He’s focused.”
CP’s older brother CJ, who played ball at South Carolina-Spartanburg, knows where the aforementioned focus originated. “He has always had that fire in his eyes. He was always smaller than everybody so he felt like he had to do something to separate himself from everyone else. I started to notice it when he was in middle school when he would be the smallest person on the floor but he would dominate every game. When he got to high school he didn’t play varsity until his junior year. He averaged 30 points on junior varsity as a sophomore and then averaged 26 on varsity as a junior.”
Chris and CJ
Earlier this season, the New Orleans Hornets were preparing to go up against the Philadelphia 76‘ers in Philly. The Hornets were coming off consecutive losses and Chris seemed ready to exact his will and sting the vulnerable Sixers. From the press box under the visitor’s basket, I tried to notice his mannerisms. Paul seemed calm but had an intriguing swagger which gave me the impression he was about to get down. A little more than ten thousand fans most likely came to see the opposition rather than their home team. The Sixers are a team in transition with Andre Iguodala being their only true star. The city still seems in shock because of the block buster Allen Iverson trade that sent yet another of Philly’s Hall of Fame players out of town.
CP and the Iguodala met at half court to share a laugh. You could feel the camaraderie that exists between two players expected to carry the league into the next decade. Before they went to battle, Andre offered why Chris does what he does to the opposition so well, “Chris is a smart player. He’s tough to scout. He’s a good shooter. He gets to the basket and is a great finisher. He’s a franchise player because he makes his team better.” Asked about why he chose to support Chris this summer during a weekend of charitable festivities in Chris’ hometown of Winston Salem, North Carolina, Andre states, “Chris and I click. He’s a good dude. I just wanted to get down there and help out with what he had going on in Winston Salem. It’s so important we all give back and Chris is making sure he does this even in the early stages of his career.”
Because the Wachovia center is less than half its sellout capacity, you could hear Chris barking commands to his teammates whether he’s in the game, sitting on the bench or standing at the scorer’s table. He has the mind of a seasoned coach and therefore is a natural leader. It’s impressive to see firsthand a true Hall of Fame caliber player in the initial stages of what will be an elite career barring injury. His ability to put his team in a position to win makes an Isiah Thomas comparison make sense. Bryon Scott has been a capable coach and took two Net teams to the NBA Finals, yet you hardly notice him on the sideline. Before the game, he had this to say about his young superstar, “When you look at the NBA, Chris Paul is the image they want for the league. He’s well respected and has a lot of respect for his peers. He wants to win and that’s the bottom line.” I also asked Coach Scott how Chris impacts the entire franchise and he tells it like it is, “You don’t have enough time on that tape (we crack up) He really is a coach’s dream. He’s a kid that listens, carries out the game plan and takes the criticism along with the praise. He wants to make himself better and there’s not a coach in this league that doesn’t want to have him. Our goal here is to play hard. We’ve been short these last couple of seasons, so I’m very optimistic of our playoff chances. It all starts with Chris.”
Fire and Desire
Most coaches would love it this easy. Bringing the ball up court and setting up a play, CP yells to Tyson Chandler to get out of the post because David West has Reggie Evans pinned on the low block in a mismatch. West spins right for an easy two points. CP is showing and proving why he’s arguably the best young point guard in the league. With undeniable will, Paul picks apart the Sixers defense jumper after jumper. Using an assortment of spin moves and hard dribble drives to get inside the lane, Paul frees up David West and Tyson Chandler for easy lay-ups and dunks with simple left and right hand passes just below the foul line. If he’s not in the lane causing havoc on the Philadelphia interior defense, he’s penetrating and finding wing shooters Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic for dagger threes. Paul ends the first quarter with an acrobatic, over the shoulder, no look bucket at the buzzer–causing the Philly faithful to actually cheer. From this point, the Sixers were done. New Orleans coasts to a 93-72 victory and Paul ends the game with a respectable 16 points and 9 assists-playing half the game. Four Hornet starters play less than 30 minutes. Even though the Hornets play in the loaded Western Conference, look for this team to be force this season. They are maturing before our eyes. After the game Tyson Chandler exclaims, “I’m playing with the best point guard not named Kidd or Nash in the league!”
ED Note: That was November. CP3 is the best point guard in the L. -Mizzo
Mo Pete, who languished for years in Toronto before being resurrected and traded to New Orleans in the off season, heaps praise on a player very capable of eventually helping him getting into the later rounds of the playoffs, “Chris is an unbelievable player and a better person. He’s just a great guy off the court and has unbelievable skill. During the game, he might put a spin move on someone or throw the ball threw a player’s legs and I’m watching–not realizing I’m actually in a game. He’s an exceptional point guard.”
The Chris Paul dynamic is still under construction. He’s devoid of labels, tats and any other symbolism look at me associated. Paul is one of the main soldiers in a renaissance age of point men. He could be more flamboyant or score more, but these current league money making attributes don’t seem important to Paul because of life experiences. His Hornet team has been beset by injuries and Paul, now in his third campaign, is ready to break out. The 2005-2006 Rookie of the Year himself was shelved this past season with an ankle injury. He was inactive the entire summer even though he definitely would have been a major contributor to USA basketball qualifying for the 2008 Olympics. I ran into him in Vegas and was impressed with the anticipation in his voice. All he spoke about was the team and settling back into New Orleans and helping his Katrina scarred people. Paul doesn’t seem miffed by the bright lights, flash and easy made cash. He wants to win ASAP and currently averages 21 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. Yeah, that’s a nice line, but point guard stats mean nothing. Point guards are measured like NFL quarter backs whose legacies are defined by how many times their respective teams are the last squad standing with rings shining.
Rings give professional athletes career validation. Most cats would sacrifice all the stats in the world for that most proper June confetti shine. The way Chris Paul is ballin’, that moment in time is coming and all others better step it up or get pushed eyes wide to the side.