Chris Emmanuel Paul was born on May 6, 1985 in Lewisville, North Carolina. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Charles and Robin, had welcomed an older brother, C.J., a few years earlier. The Pauls were as tight a family as you could find.
They were also huge sports fans—Charles being a diehard Dallas Cowboys supporter. But Chris likely inherited his athletic ability from Robin’s side of the family, including her father, Nathaniel Jones.
The man known as “Papa Chilly” lived a short ride away in Winston-Salem. He was the founder and owner of Jones Chevron, the first service station in North Carolina operated by an African-American. Jones was a legend in the area. Everyone knew him, liked him and respected him.
No one had a stronger bond to Papa Chilly than Chris. He loved working side-by-side with his grandfather, helping change oil filters and washing windshields of patrons who stopped for a fill-up. Chris considered Papa Chilly his best friend. He talked about everything with him.
Chris also shared a close relationship with his brother—too close at times for C.J.’s liking. Little brother followed big brother everywhere he went. C.J. and his friends often viewed Chris as a pest. Plain and simple, he never knew when to shut up.
When Chris was three, Charles bought a pair of Fisher-Price baskets and set up a court with red tape in the basement. He then watched his sons go at it. Growing up in the shadow of Wake Forest, Chris was a big fan of the ACC (and Michael Jordan, of course). Rooting for the Demon Deacons was a no-brainer, particularly after Tim Duncan arrived at Wake in 1993.
Chris learned a lot about love, discipline and basketball from his parents. Charles and Robin took active roles in the lives of both of their sons. Chris and C.J. were encouraged—and expected—to pay attention in school, study hard and get good grades. Foul language wasn't tolerated, and video games were allowed only on weekends. The boys were aware of what awaited them if they stepped out of line: a wooden paddle that read “Board of Corrections” on one side and “Victim Sign Here” on the other.
During his childhood, football was the sport that earned Chris the most attention. Though he lacked size, the youngster was fast, smart and a charismatic leader. He lined up at quarterback, running back and linebacker, and his coaches never took him off the field. Charles rarely missed a game—and rarely was able to keep his focus solely on the gridirion. When he learned that one of Chris’s football coaches laid cement, he asked him to build a hoops court for his sons on a nearby hill.
When Chris was ready for his freshman year at West Forsyth High School, he had no illusions of making the varsity basketball squad. C.J. was the team’s best player, while Chris logged his first two seasons on the JV. Standing a good four inches below six feet, the teen simply couldn’t match up physically with taller, stronger opponents.
Chris’s game began to blossom in his junior year, after C.J. headed to Hampton University on a hoops scholarship. Chris grew to nearly six feet, without losing a step of speed or quickness. He led West Forsyth to a 26-4 record and the semifinals of the state 4-A championship. Along the way, he averaged 25 points, 5.3 assists and 4.4 steals. Those numbers, plus his easy smile and disarming personality, helped him claims honors as Central Piedmont Player of the Year.
ON THE RISE
It wasn’t long before the college coaches came knocking. Chris was recruited by every ACC program, including North Carolina. But his mind had long been set on Wake Forest. He made an oral commitment to the school as a junior, and then showed up so often on campus to work out that it seemed like he had already joined the team. In November of 2002, in what was mere formality, Chris signed a letter of intent to the Demon Deacons. Papa Chilly beamed with pride. After the ceremony, he placed a Wake hat on his grandson’s head.
Within 24 hours, however, Chris’s life was turned upside-down. News arrived that 61-year-old Papa Chilly was robbed and murdered by a gang of teenagers. Chris and his family were shattered. Nearly 2,000 people attended the funeral. Chris was in a daze, but a suggestion from an aunt stuck in his head. West Forsyth’s next game was against Parkland High. To honor his grandfather's memory, he was determined to score 61 points.
Chris poured in 32 in the first half. With less than three minutes to go, his total stood at 59. Chris drove the lane, got hacked and flipped up a layup that rolled in. After intentionally shooting an airball from the foul line, he came out of the game and collapsed in his father’s arms, sobbing uncontrollably.
Though West Forsyth came up short in its bid for the 4-A state title, Chris was unquestionably North Carolina’s top high schooler. He ended the season with phenomenal stats, including 30.8 points a game, eight assists, six steals and five rebounds. A Parade All-American, he was named to USA Today's All-USA high school second team. AP voted him the North Carolina High School Player of the Year, and the Charlotte Observer recognized him as North Carolina's Mr. Basketball.
Chris did little but play hoops the summer after his senior year. Selected for the East squad in the McDonald's All-America Game, he dished out 10 assists and was awarded the contest's sportsmanship award. Chris also took part in the USA Basketball Men's Youth Development Festival and was a member of the silver team in the Jordan Brand Capitol Classic All-Star game
Perhaps Chris distinguished himself most notably at the 19-and-under AAU boys state tournament in Greensboro. Running the point for the North Carolina Gaters, he led a 116-70 rout of the Charlotte Royals in the championship tilt. While he scored a game-high 24 points, it was his floor leadership and passing ability that drew the biggest raves.
Chris headed to Wake for the 2003-04 season already a star—and his teammates couldn't have been happier to welcome him to Winston-Salem. Coach Skip Prosser felt the same way. In the midst of a rebuilding effort, he viewed his freshman point guard as the key to his plans. Chris fit perfectly in the backcourt with long-range bomber Justin Gray, while newcomer Eric Williams provided muscle up front.
Chris’s first real test at the collegiate level came against Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. He passed with flying colors, posting 20 points and eight assists in an 100-67 victory. Hoosiers coach Mike Davis called the frosh the best point guard his team had ever faced.
Chris and Gray developed into a dynamite guard tandem. With Chris’s ability to break down opponents and Gray’s unlimited range from the perimeter, they were wonderful compliments for each other. The duo was clicking on all cylinders when Wake began its ACC schedule. Against UNC, Chris shook off early jitters to spearhead a 119-114 triple-OT win. Against Duke, he pumped in 19 in the second half to fuel an upset victory. He also torched Maryland for 30.
Chris went on to earn honors as the ACC rookie of the year. He avergaed 14.8 points and 5.9 assists, and topped the team in assists (183), steals (84), three-point field goal percentage (.465), free throws (150), free throw attempts (178) and free throw percentage (.843). He was also voted to the All-ACC defensive team. College Insider, The Sporting News, Basketball Times and Dick Vitale all rated him as the nation’s best frosh.
Chris shifted into another gear once March Madness began. In the team’s first two games, narrow victories over Virginia Commwealth and Manhattan, he pumped in 51 points. In the win over the Jaspers, he added eight rebounds, six assists and three steals. His sparkling performance set up one of the tournament’s more intriguing matchups, as the Demon Deacons prepared for Jameer Nelson and St. Joe’s.
The game lived up to its billing. Unfortunately, Wake finished on the wrong end of an 84-80 final. Nelson was spectacular with 24 points. Chris, by contrast, struggled in the first half. But he bounced back after intermission, and his play kept the Deacons in the contest.
Still, Chris was disappointed in his performance. Nelson had shown himself ready for the NBA. Chris had work to do. The day after the loss, he called Prosser, told his coach how sorry he was for the the Wake loss, thanked him for the opportunity with the Deacs, and promised to improve. Chris was good to word.
During that summer, he helped the U.S. junior national team to an international title in Canada. Despite a shooting slump that lasted most of the tourney, he kept his composure and gave the Americans excellent decision-making and defense at the point. In a win over Brazil, he posted a record 13 assists.
For many college sophomores, the hype that Chris faced entering his second season at Wake would have been overwhelming. He maintained a level head, offering a calming presence to a team saddled with lofty expectations. In addition to Chris, Prosser welcomed back Gray and Roberts. With Taron Downey providing a veteran spark off the bench and high-jumping Jamal Levy in the starting lineup, the Demon Deacons featured a talented squad.
Wake stormed from the gate, winning 12 of its first 13. Voted a preseason All-America by AP, Chris was enjoying a sensational campaign, scoring nearly 15 a night and dishing out six helpers.
The pressure finally caught up to Chris as the ACC tournament approached. In Wake’s final regular-season contest, he whacked NC State’s Julius Hodge with a closed fist in the midsection. Prosser removed him from the game, but only for a short time. When Chris returned, the Wolfpack fans let him have it. Conference officials were none too pleased with the soph, either. They suspended him for Wake’s first-round tilt in the ACC tournament.
At first, Chris feigned ignorance about the incident. Later he admitted his mistake, apologized for it and agreed with the decision to suspend him. Without their leader, the Demon Deacons were upset by Florida State in the first round of the ACC tourney.
In the big tournament, Wake beat Tennessee-Chattanooga without any problem, but faced a hot-shooting West Virginia squad in the second round. In one of the most thrilling games of March Madness, the Mountaineers won 111-105 in OT. Chris did all he could to change the outcome. In 44 minutes, he scored 22, including several huge buckets to send the contest into the extra period, and added nine assists. With the loss, Wake ended at 27-6.
Though his education was important to him, Chris had nothing left to prove at the college level. He virtually repeated his numbers against another tough schedule and repaired any damage he had done to his image with his play in the big dance. With NBA teams wooing him as a surefire lottery pick, he opted for the pros.
The teams showing the most interest in Chris were the Hornets, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats. The Hawks, however, were also in the market for a big man. When the Milwaukee Bucks went with Utah’s Andrew Bogut with the first pick, Atlanta took UNC freshman Marvin Williams. The Utah Jazz chose next and opted for the size and maturity of Illinois point guard Deron Williams. That was great news to the Hornets, who grabbed Chris in the fourth slot.
The 20-year-old joined a club expected to do little in 2005-06. Coming off an 18-64 season, the Hornets weren’t exactly blessed with talent. Their top player was center Jamaal Magliore. The rest of the roster was stocked with unexciting veterans and youngsters high on potential but short on experience. P.J. Brown, Speedy Claxton, David West and J.R. Smith led the chrage. While Chris would have no problem earning a starting spot, it seemed his impact would be limited given the players surrounding him.
For coach Byron Scott, the picture got a little cloudier when Magliore was shipped to Milwaukee before the season began. Speaking of cloudy, New Orleans—the team and the city—was dealt a severe blow when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. The Hornets were forced to move their home to Oklahoma City. But a funny thing happened on the way to another dismal season. West found his game, Scott got the most out of his supporting cast, and Chris developed into a bona fide star.
MAKING HIS MARK
The Hornets won 38 games, and Chris was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month every month of the season. At year ’s end, he was a no-brainer for NBA Rookie of the Year. Chris averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 assists and provided fearless leadership to the Hornets. NBA point guards had trouble keeping Chris out of the paint, and he proved he could finish in traffic—demanding extra attention and creating more passing opportunities on the dribble-drive.
Chris showed marked improvement in virtually every area during his second NBA season, raising his scoring average to 17.3 and and his assists to 8.9. Hornets fans in Oklahoma City (the team had to spend another year away from New Orleans) saw an even better player, but injuries nagged Chris all year. He ended up sitting for a total of 18 games. Had he been healthy for the full schedule, the Hornets might have squeaked into the playoffs. As it was, they posted 39 victories, helped by the additions of rebounding monster Tyson Chandler and sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic.
Healthy and motivated in 2007–08, Chris set his sights on a playoff berth and a spot in the All-Star Game, which would be played in New Orleans that February. The Hornets returned home after a two-year hiatus and gave their fans a wonderful treat, sporting the NBA’s top record much of the year and battling for the Southwest Division title. They finished with 56 victories, second best in the NBA.
Night after night, Chris was the difference-maker. When the Hornets needed a momentum-changing play, he was their go-to guy. He blossomed into a superstar, vying with Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett for MVP recognition throughout the season. Chris led the NBA in assists with 11.6 and steals with 2.7. He also boosted his scoring average to 21.1 points per game. Chris made the All-Star Game, as did West, who also had a breakout year for the Hornets.
New Orleans entered the playoffs without ever having won a postseason series. That changed when they faced the Dallas Mavericks, who had added Jason Kidd for the stretch run. The newest Mav had no answers for Chris, who scored 24 points in the second half of Game 1 to lead New Orleans to 104-92 victory. In Game 2, Chris set a team playoff record with 17 assists as New Orleans won again. He sliced through the Dallas defense almost at will. Chris finished off the Mavs in Game 5 with a triple-double: 24 points, 15 assists, and 11 rebounds. It was one of the most magnificent performances of the season.
Chris kept up his fantastic play against the San Antonio Spurs in the next round. He led the Hornets to a pair of easy victories to open the series. In Game 2, played on his 23rd birthday, Chris demolished Tony Parker for 30 points and 12 assists.
But Duncan, one of Chris’s earliest basketball heroes, stepped up and the Spurs came roaring back. They transformed a potential runaway into a thrilling semifinal series. Unfortunately for the Hornets, it ended on their homecourt in Game 7 with a 91-82 loss. Chris played well, with 18 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds, but San Antonio's championship experience was too much to overcome.
Prior to the 2008–09 season, the Hornets locked up Chris with a lucrative three-year contract extension. They also added experience in the person of James Posey, plucked off the roster of the champion Boston Celtics.
The Hornets fought it out with the Spurs, Mavs and Houston Rockets for supremacy in the Southwest Conference. New Orleans got off to an uneven start, though Chris was hardly to blame, as he continued to mature on the court. In November, Chris put toegether back-to-back triple-doubles in wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers. It was one of a half-dozen he recorded on the season. Chris made the All-Star Game for the second year in a row.
The Hornets, however, struggled for consistency. In December, the team pulled the trigger on a deal that it hoped would shake up the roster. Chandler was sent to Oklahoma City, but the move was met with consternation from Chris, his teammates and the New Orleans fans. When Chandler failed his physical, he returned to the club, and the Hornets got a chance at a "do-over." In the end, it was the non-trade that shook up the team. New Orleans finished with 49 victories and made the playoffs easily. Chris led the club in minutes, points, free throws, assists and steals. His 11.0 assists and 2.8 steals topped the NBA for the second season in a row. Chris was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team and was Second Team All-NBA. He even received a couple of first-place MVP votes.
Despite their solid record, the Hornets went into the 2009 playoffs as an inconsistent team. After a February winning streak, the team had trouble stringing together more than two or three wins in a row. They were eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in five games in the first round.
In 2009–10, the Hornets got off to a dreadful start. Scott was fired less than two years after guiding New Orleans to a division title. Chris was irritated by this move and let management know as much. Adding to his displeasure were a couple of painful injuries—first to his ankle and then to left knee. The knee had to be ’scoped, and he sat for eight weeks. Although his final numbers were similar to past seasons, Chris missed more than 30 games and the Hornets finished a disappointing 37–45.
New Orleans rebounded in 2010–11 to win 46 games and earn a return trip to the postseason. Chris and West did the bulk of the scoring as usual, while Emeka Okafor—who had joined the club a year earlier—handled rebounding duties. Chris’s numbers were down from past seasons, but he played as hard as ever. He was rewarded with another All-Star selection—his fourth in a row—and was recognized with All-NBA honors for the third time (as a Third Teamer). Alas, come playoff time the Hornets could not overcome Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
The heady days for the Hornets following Hurricane Katrina seemed like a distant memory at this point. New Orleans had lost much of its enthusiasm for the Hornets, and it was becoming a less interesting place to live and play for Chris. The team suspected they would be unable to resign him in 2012, so prior to the belated start of the 2011—12 campaign, the Hornets worked out a three-way deal with the Lakers and Rockets that would send Chris to the West Coast.
Not surprisingly, the trade was unpopular in New Orleans. In fact, several co-owners of the Hornets compained to the league that they objected to the deal. David Stern stepped in and nullified the trade, and the Hornets went back to the drawing board. Eventually, Chris was sent to the West Coast, but to the Clippers instead of the Lakers. New Orleans received a package that included Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Minnesota’s first-round draft pick in 2012.
The prospect of Kobe and CP3 in the same backcourt was exciting while it lasted, but in the end the move to LA’s “other” team is probably better for the NBA. Will it be better for Chris? That remains to be seen. To the Clippers’ credit, they immediately began building around him, adding veterans Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler—both of whom own championship rings. With scintillating talent like Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe sharing the floor with Chris, this could finally be the Clippers’ time.
CHRIS THE PLAYER
Chris sees the entire floor. He has incredible instincts and makes great decisions. If an opponent is dogging him far from the basket, he’ll drive the lane, either going all the way to the rim or dishing off to an open teammate. If a defender backs off, he has the confidence to stroke his jumper. He is one of the toughest players in the NBA to stop when he decides to score.
Though Chris plays at high speed, he’s always in control. He’s been called a one-man fast break, but that’s somewhat deceiving. Chris pushes the ball constantly, though he usually doesn’t force bad shots. His assist-to-turnover ratio is one of the best among point guards.
Chris can frustrate coaches because he’s often too unselfish. He’s such a gifted passer—able to hit teammates in positions where they have to do little work to convert—that he has to be reminded at times to look for his shot. Big men especially love playing with him because they get so many lay-ups and dunks. With Blake Griffin at the receiving end of his passes, Chris’s assist number could go through the roof, as should his appearance in highlight reels.
No one questions Chris’s production or leadership ability. He leads by example at both ends of the court, finishing at or near the top of the league in steals and assists each season. He’s exceedingly polite and friendly off the court, but on it he possesses a killer mentality.
Winning is his bottom line. If Chris needs to score, he will. If heb needs to be a distributor, he will. And his effort on defense is always 100%. Chris is the unquestioned leader of the Clippers. Where he takes the team is the question on the minds of fans in LA and around the NBA.
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