Simply put, basketball is a game. But to anyone that is a true player or fan of the sport that definition is a criminal undersell of the significance that the sport can take on in the right circumstances. Basketball can become a canvas upon which, just like the greatest artists, its participants can express themselves and tell powerful stories.
In 2002 Chris Paul, a high school senior at the time, deliberately missed a free throw playing in a varsity basketball game. In isolation this would seem like a strange and unmonumental event to recall all these years later. But the reason behind the miss was an emotive force that still drives Paul today.
Up to that point in the game, Paul had scored 61 points. The significance of this number was its dedication to his late grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, who was murdered at 61 years old. Paul set out to score 61 points and dedicate a point for each year of his Grandfather’s life.
On the day Chris Paul had accepted his scholarship to Wake Forest earlier that year he was wearing a hat that his Grandfather had given to him, displaying the pride he took in Chris’ achievement. The very next day Nathaniel Jones was found murdered outside his home.
CP3 went on from high school to enjoy a storied collegiate career, along with an ongoing and wildly successful NBA career that has earned him the moniker of the “Point God”. To this point, Chris Paul has appeared in 11 All Star games, 10 All-NBA teams, 9 All-Defensive teams and was the 2006 Rookie of the Year.
He currently sits 47th all time in NBA points scored, 5th all time in assists (just 60 assists shy of 3rd) and 5th all time in steals. Over his career he’s averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He’s one of the greatest midrange shooters the league has seen along with being one of the last true floor generals.
None of these statistics or achievements hold the same significance to Paul as that 61 point game however. Speaking to the Associated Press, Paul said of the influence his Grandfather had left on him and his upcoming book (titled “Sixty-One”) release:
“His legacy of hard work and service to others is woven through the fabric of my parenting, my community work and how I have approached my basketball career. That high school game where I scored 61 points was a healing moment through basketball and I am thrilled to work with Michael Wilbon to share this story with the world.”
As the saying goes, history has a way of repeating itself. With a chance at sealing his first trip to the NBA finals in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Chris Paul was electric. He finished the game with 41 points and 8 assists. When you look deeper into the numbers however, there was a powerful message to be found. As per Synergy Sports, in probably the biggest game of his NBA career, Chris Paul scored, created or assisted (you guessed it)… 61 points. Not only that, he committed 0 turnovers putting on an absolute exhibition of Point Guard play.
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Looking forward to the NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks will face a Phoenix Suns team that has seemed to progressively find form and chemistry since the bubble of the previous season. Crucially however, they will also face one of the greatest Point Guards to ever step foot on a basketball court. Chris Paul is not only chasing a championship, but the legitimation a title would bring for his personal legacy, and perhaps also a powerful final farewell, tribute and sign off for Nathaniel Jones.
With these upcoming NBA finals the career of Chris Paul could come full circle. In his 16th season, (look at that number backwards), it would feel equal parts fitting and spooky if Chris Paul were to go on and finally lift the title that his career deserves.