Chris Paul’s surprising trade to the Golden State Warriors has dominated NBA storylines this off-season. While journalists and fans question Paul’s feelings about teaming up with his once rivals, a greater storyline surrounds the 38-year-old ahead of his 19th NBA season: his consistent use of basketball to elevate others.
Published this month, Paul’s memoir, Sixty-One: Life Lessons From Papa On And Off The Court, highlights his early focus on others ahead of himself. Paul’s beloved grandfather, Nathaniel “Papa” Jones, was murdered the day after Paul signed to play college basketball at Wake Forest. A beacon of the Winston-Salem community, Jones was just 61-years-old. Amidst his grief, Paul suited up the day after his grandfather’s burial to play for his high school team. Coming a mere six points from setting the North Carolina high school scoring record, he purposefully missed shots that game to accomplish another goal: scoring sixty-one points to honor his grandfather’s life.
Creating opportunity to honor others has anchored Paul’s decision-making throughout his career.
On a Tuesday morning in June a mere five days after being traded to the Warriors, Paul unassumingly exited a black SUV and walked across the pavement of a church parking lot in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles. There, hundreds of neighbors were gathered for Fanatics’ “Merch Madness” giveaway. The event, part of Fanatics’ Global Volunteer Day, distributed over 300,000 pieces of licensed apparel valued at $20 million to underserved youth and their families in 100 different locations nationally. At the Los Angeles event, attendees each picked out three pieces of merchandise and mixed and mingled in the L.A. summer sun while enjoying music. Everyone was having a nice time. And then, it got even better.
Once out of the vehicle and before anyone realized who had arrived, Paul made his way across the parking lot. He quickly changed his shirt to put on a bright blue “volunteer” shirt. He humbly walked back to where all of the other volunteers stood and got to work helping attendees pick out their gear. Finally, someone realized who was there. “OH MY GOSH! YOU ARE CHRIS PAUL!” a woman exclaimed.
Chris Paul, yes, that Chris Paul showed up to hang out with them.
Kids rushed to snap a selfie with the star. A vivacious little girl thrust her iPhone into Chris’ hands to FaceTime with her brother. A man went and got his wife from work to see what she likely otherwise wouldn’t believe: one of the NBA’s biggest stars was in their neighborhood chopping it up with everyone like they were old friends.
“I was brought up like this; I was at events all the time where people were helping, giving to us,” Paul said of the event. “Being 38-years-old now, you are so much more appreciative of a lot of the things you get a chance to experience. A lot of these people see us on TV and stuff all the time, but you never really get a chance to be with them. So, to be able to get out here and spend a little time with them is great.”
Elevating the Black community has been a cornerstone of Paul’s career. From his fashion choices and investments to his education and entrepreneurial endeavors, he has utilized his basketball prowess to create opportunity for others.
Take for instance Paul’s style choices, which are purposefully made to advocate for HBCUs. Since 2018 he has worn HBCU schools’ apparel in the tunnel when entering NBA games. In 2021, his Social Change Fund and Bleacher Report partnered with seven designers to create HBCU capsule collections. Thanks to the creative vision of his stylist, Courtney Mays, Paul routinely wears and brings attention to Black fashion designers’ creations.
The former NBPA president, Paul now hopes to inspire the next generation of NBPA talent to use their NBA experience to amplify opportunities for others.
“I actually talked to all of the guys the day before they got drafted in New York,” Paul told RULING SPORTS. “My advice to them was to always keep the main thing the main thing, but don’t forget where you came from. When you are in a position where you can elevate other people and bring them along with you and show them different things you’ve learned and been able to experience, that is what it’s all about.”
Through education, Paul has used this mindset to show others what he’s learned along the way. Leaving Wake Forest to turn pro after two seasons, Paul returned completed his degree at Winston-Salem State in 2023. Desiring to bring attention to HBCUs, Paul transferred the credits he earned at Wake Forest to his hometown HBCU and fulfilled the promise he made to his parents to graduate. To celebrate the moment, Paul funded accounts valued at $2,500 for each of his fellow graduates at Black-owned Greenwood Bank. In recent years, he has also helped expand HBCU curriculum, investing $1.5 million to bring Harvard professor Anita Elberse’s renowned “Business of Entertainment and Sports” program to five HBCU campuses.
Such efforts are why those who have been around NBA circles long enough know it’s tough to find someone who doesn’t like Paul. When pressed on this point, Paul quickly retorts, “a lot of people don’t like me–let me tell you.” But like Victor Hugo once said about having enemies, he knows such comes with being a leader who gets things done.
“I’ve been in positions of leadership and when you have to make real decisions, not everyone is going to like those decisions,” Paul told RULING SPORTS. “But as long as you’re comfortable with who you are and your foundation, you can stand on that, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
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