BRIAN T. SMITH ON PAUL’S INTRODUCTION.
Rockets guard Chris Paul acts on his responsibilities as father, player and role model as few pro athletes do
Father, husband, brother and son.
All-NBA — overall and defense — face of two franchises and the new hope of a third.
Role model, union president, respected voice for social change and a young boy at heart.
Leslie Alexander has always loved his superstars. Since The Beard was brought to Houston in 2012, Daryl Morey’s Rockets have remade themselves over and over, all while becoming an ideal destination point for the NBA’s elite during an unforgiving era of super teams.
James Harden. Dwight Howard. Going hard after Chris Bosh and twice flirting with Carmelo Anthony.
But the modern Rockets have never had anyone like Chris Paul. And the city of Houston has rarely possessed anyone in his league.
“From when he first started sports, he realized there was a responsibility that comes with being an athlete,” said Charles Paul, Chris’ father.
Leading players’ union
You couldn’t give away the title of National Basketball Players Association president in the chaotic time after former commissioner David Stern won the 2011 lockout and teams began to divide into haves and have-nots. Two years later, Paul proudly took charge, guiding the union toward increased wealth and labor peace, which recently netted Harden the largest contract extension ($228 million) in NBA history.
Last summer, you couldn’t scroll through Twitter or turn on the TV without being overwhelmed by the currents of social and political change. Protests and statements. Civilians versus cops. Confusion, frustration, hatred and cries for togetherness, all against the scorching backdrop of a controversial presidential campaign.
Paul stood and shared a national stage with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Anthony, embracing the present and attempting to bring the divided closer together.
“We stand here tonight accepting our role in uniting communities to be the change we need to see,” Paul said last July at the ESPYs, linking the names Trayvon Martin, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali. “We stand before you as fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, uncles and, in my case, as an African-American man and the nephew of a police officer, who is one of the hundreds of thousands of great officers serving this country.”
Paul, 32, traded Los Angeles for the country’s fourth-largest city to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in 13 seasons, give Harden the superstar counterpart he needs, and hand Alexander the third trophy he has spent the last 22 years seeking.
Paul gets it — the depth of life; his platform, role and place in the sports world — like few do.
“When he started having kids, then his maturity really started to come, because then it was more than about basketball,” Charles said.
Part of community
Paul can be so competitive it’s nasty. But he’s bigger than that.
You can mention leadership, commitment, drive and a burning desire to finally play on the NBA’s biggest stage. But Paul always has been defined by more, refusing to settle for the trappings that limit so many pro athletes.
When former Clippers owner Donald Sterling was brought down, Paul was at the center of the fury. When Paul left Los Angeles after six seasons of lifting the once-forsaken Clippers — only to fall short in the playoffs year after year — he spent part of his introductory news conference Friday in Houston giving a heartfelt shout-out to the Brotherhood Crusade, a grass-roots organization that benefits lowincome and disenfranchised people in Los Angeles.
“I don’t take this role lightly,” Paul said. “Some people say, ‘You’re not a role model,’ this and that, and I’m not perfect by any means. But I also understand the responsibility. I know how my kids look at people that they see on television, whether it’s the Disney Channel or whether it’s other guys that’s in our league. My son sees James, he goes nuts.
“When you have kids, you start to understand how they look at others and I understand that I’m in a role, as such. And so you try to be mindful of different things that you do or what you say and stuff like that, but also remember that everyone’s human, just like everybody else.”
Active in social issues
That’s what has always separated Paul — he isn’t like everybody else. He became a hero in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He created Lob City with Los Angeles’ other NBA team, after Stern played God and prevented CP3 from becoming a Laker.
“With who? I was only with them for like an hour or two,” said Paul, showing off his bite, after a media member confused the Lakers and Clippers.
Howard reached out to the community and attached his name to social issues while he was a Rocket. But the sincerity was always surrounded by silliness, and it never felt like Superman truly wanted to carry all the weight. Howard’s on his third team in 15 months — even his hometown Atlanta Hawks discarded him — and his superpowers are at an all-time low.
Harden, who has long been defined by his beard, began growing into his new role last season as the face of a franchise. He can be a mystery, though, and the only time it feels like you’re seeing the real Harden is when the ball is in his hands.
During his first official day in Houston, Paul was highly charismatic, at ease and mayor-like. When I say he gets it, I mean he gets it.
The start of his news conference was delayed for 10 minutes because lines wrapped around his new arena. When Paul walked into the room, his parents, children and family preceded his arrival.
“I roll deep,” Paul said. “I’ve got my whole crew with me.”
Interacting with fans
Toyota Center became a hip-hop concert blended with a wrestling tournament — screaming fans, selfies, blaring speakers, promises and proclamations.
Paul on the future: “I cannot wait, Houston. I cannot wait.”
The unbeatable Warriors: “We’re not close enough, to tell you the truth.”
Then it was off to Minute Maid Park and the best team in the American League. Dallas Keuchel caught the first pitch from CP3. Jose Altuve stood next to the new Rocket. Paul’s children were wrapped in new Astros jerseys and went everywhere their father did.
“He doesn’t forget his bonds,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Father. Son. President. Point guard. Role model.
Even in the time of Harden, the Rockets have never had anyone like this.
“It’s more than the ring,” Paul’s father said. “It’s how you get to the ring.”
New Rockets guard Chris Paul engages with fans during his introduction Friday at Toyota Center. The size of the crowd that greeted Paul and his family was a testament to his popularity.