New­est Rocket a solid cit­i­zen


Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Feigen twit­

Guard Chris Paul takes re­spon­si­bil­ity as a role model se­ri­ously.

Robin and Charles Paul saw their son take the stage Fri­day, as they have so of­ten, to roars from a hefty work­day crowd at Toy­ota Cen­ter and chants of his now im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fi­able nick­name, “CP3.” • They have seen him ev­ery­where from a seat on a lu­mi­nary-filled ba­nana boat to the cold open of the ESPYs, im­plor­ing ac­tion “to be the change we need.” They have seen him in ubiq­ui­tous in­sur­ance com­mer­cials and smil­ing on mag­a­zine cov­ers. • Yet, as par­ents so of­ten do, they see Chris Paul now and see the child. They see the same driven, stub­born, mag­netic force they knew not to con­trol but to di­rect, hav­ing long since rec­og­nized the qual­i­ties that make peo­ple spe­cial.

“I can still see it, I can see it from the stand­point of his tough­ness, how he likes to grind,” Robin Paul said Fri­day af­ter her youngest son was in­tro­duced in Hous­ton as the lat­est star the Rock­ets hope to lead them to a cham­pi­onship. “He was like that as a child. Stub­born. Tough. Real tough. And there is the car­ing part of him. The giv­ing part. The fam­ily part. I can def­i­nitely see that in him from child­hood all the way to now. He has not changed.”

Chris Paul is this way be­cause he al­ways has been, driven by pas­sions from his need to win to his de­sire to serve that goes back be­fore any­one out­side of Lewisville, N.C., had heard his name. But in a way, it goes back more than that, to the grand­fa­ther, PaPa Chili, who was his “best friend”; the older brother, C.J., who was his in­spi­ra­tion, and the par­ents who could point to the qual­i­ties so rec­og­niz­able around the NBA that were on dis­play be­fore he was born.

“I was play­ing in an in­dus­trial league,” Charles Paul said. “Robin had to come out on the court to get me. She was eight months preg­nant with Chris. She came out on the court and said, ‘You shouldn’t act like that.’ Now, when Chris used to do that, she said, ‘Just like his daddy.’

“He was tough. That’s why I started coach­ing him. He and his brother would be down in the base­ment play­ing. They were fight­ing all the time. I told Robin, ‘I know I’m go­ing to have to coach that one be­cause he’s go­ing to be fight­ing ev­ery­body.’ I could see it when he was young. Tough. Want­ing to be as good as his bother. Get­ting mad at me. Talk­ing to his mom.”

Keep­ing him grounded

But Paul is not the way he al­ways has been be­cause he has no rea­son or abil­ity to change. He is re­warded for the qual­i­ties so en­trenched.

But he keeps Lewisville and that ex­tended fam­ily within reach. They keep him grounded, he said. Ath­letes and other celebrities of­ten have fam­ily with them to force hu­mil­ity and share suc­cess. But more than that, it’s how it has al­ways been even be­fore Robin from Lewisville’s south side met Charles from the east side at Dream­land Park Bap­tist Church and their youngest son be­gan do­ing all he could to have the fam­ily travel in packs.

“My par­ents still live in North Carolina, but you’ll see a lot of my par­ents,” Paul said. “Out of 41 home games in L.A., they made more than half. Now that I’m even closer, my par­ents won’t live here, but it will seem that they do.

“I can’t imag­ine how many fam­ily mem­bers will be com­ing out here to see the games. That’s all I know. Ev­ery Christ­mas I flew all my fam­ily mem­bers — this past year, I think 40 fam­ily mem­bers — out to L.A. for the hol­i­days. Trust me, I love to play in the NBA. This is what I do. This is my life. But I also un­der­stand at some point, this ball is go­ing to stop bounc­ing. My fam­ily is who is al­ways go­ing to be there.”

His grand­fa­ther won’t be. But in ways as in­grained as Paul’s drive, he al­ways is.

Nathaniel Jones closed the Chevron sta­tion on a Novem­ber night, went home and was mur­dered. Five boys roughly the age of his grand­son jumped him, bound him and beat him to death for the cash he would have given them, as he had for so many, if they had only asked.

Two nights later, Paul took the grief that emp­tied him of ev­ery­thing else to the court, scor­ing 61 points — one for ev­ery year of his grand­fa­ther’s life — in­ten­tion­ally air-balling his fi­nal free throw be­fore fall­ing into Charles’ arms in tears.

“My grandad was my best friend,” Paul said. “I was a se­nior in high school. I don’t know if that made me just work harder. But he used to al­ways tell me, ‘Chris, I work so hard be­cause I can’t work for no­body.’ He was the spir­i­tual foun­da­tion for our en­tire fam­ily. When he got mur­dered, I took on that re­spon­si­bil­ity. I didn’t that day, but I think I worked so hard in or­der so some­day I could take on that re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

A nat­u­ral team leader

He was drawn to the role the way team­mates reach for lob passes. Some peo­ple play point guard; others are point guards in ev­ery­thing they do. He wasn’t just class pres­i­dent his se­nior year, when he was, of course, also home­com­ing king; he was class pres­i­dent all four years at West Forsythe High School. He was not just his team’s player rep­re­sen­ta­tive; he is the NBA Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent. He does not just have an AAU team or a foun­da­tion; he and the fam­ily run them.

When Paul signed his con­tract with the Clip­pers, he ar­ranged a din­ner in Los An­ge­les, in­vited that ex­tended fam­ily, al­low­ing no help from friends, fam­ily or staff. He told them a time and place, and when they ar­rived, he handed out note­books with one word on the first page: “More.”

“That was for ev­ery­body,” he said. “We al­ways say we’re too tired. We can’t do this. We can’t do that. But there’s still kids out there in un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties not get­ting the same things that kids get on the other side of town. That was my mes­sage to ev­ery­body in that room. Don’t set­tle for less. Do more.

“There is a big­ger call­ing for some of us than just mak­ing jump shots. Right now, my pas­sion is to try to level the play­ing field for some of these kids in un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially with tech­nol­ogy.”

Al­ways striv­ing to suc­ceed

Yet as much as Paul said he is driven by his causes and as much as he re­mains de­voted to his fam­ily as he was taught to be, he said his hunger for the re­main­ing ac­com­plish­ment of his ca­reer is greater than ever.

He would play a pickup game at Root Memo­rial Square Park across from Toy­ota Cen­ter as if a Game 7. “Oh, ab­so­lutely,” he said. But he said there is room in all those pas­sions for the pur­suit of a cham­pi­onship that has eluded him.

His life, he said, is about more than that. But he said it is re­ally all about striv­ing for more, never sat­is­fied when more is pos­si­ble.

“It doesn’t mat­ter,” Paul said. “I don’t care if it’s Con­nect 4. I don’t care if it’s tic-tack-toe. I want to win. I want to win. Trust me. Oh ab­so­lutely, I want a cham­pi­onship. I’ve al­ways been that way. Al­ways.”

Some things don’t change. Some peo­ple make sure they are who they have al­ways been, only more so.

Mark J. Ter­rill / Associated Press

New Rock­ets guard Chris Paul makes no bones about his de­sire to win an NBA cham­pi­onship with his new team. Paul, 32, is on his third NBA team and his com­pet­i­tive spirit is well known around the league.

Johnny Nunez / WireI­mage

Chris Paul’s brother C.J., left, and his mother Robin can re­late sto­ries of Chris’ com­pet­i­tive fire and tough­ness even at an early age. Chris Paul, right, al­ways wanted to be as good as his older brother.

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