Stay in the business long enough and you’ll develop a favorite. For me, Donnell Harvey is the measuring stick for big men. He wasn’t the best I’ve seen in my 11 plus years, but he was the one guy I dropped everything to do and found his gym.
Harvey was stone cold assassin inside. “Coach, get this guy out of here, he’s in my way.” Harvey thought his inside partner wasn’t working and only impeding his progress as a rebounder. To solve the problem, the coach called timeout, promptly removed a future All-Big Ten selection and Harvey went about the business of giving Tahj Holden a tune-up. He was priceless.
Harvey was a favorite but not “my guy.”
The first time I ever saw Chris Paul was in Orlando the summer following his sophomore season. After watching the 5-foot-10 (that’s being generous) guard drop 32 points, I noticed his high school team on the roster. West Forsyth, I saw them last year, I thought.
“Chris, where were you when I saw your team?” I said. “I was on JV,” the all-american responded. Junior varsity as a sophomore! Chris Paul, JV half of his high school career. Amazing.
At that point I was extremely intrigued. As I polled the gym and asked around about him, no one new much. As it turns out the story was only beginning. It wasn’t until a fun months later that I fell in love.
One night Mark Phelps, then an N.C. State assistant, and I jumped in the car and headed for Winston-Salem. We pulled up to Reynolds High School and figured it this rivalry game would provide ample test for our young point guard friend.
Captivated isn’t the right word. Memorized, enthralled, taken by his ability to command a team and lead. Impressed with his incredible handle, determination and speed. “He might be the best point guard in the area,” one observer exalted.
Yeah, sure. County and country are not the same thing. Chris Paul, a natural born leader, was more than a good player in North Carolina. He was about to move to the head of the pack in the nation.
During his last summer on the circuit, Chris ran into All-Ohio at the AAU Nationals. Andrew Lavender was good but Chris was better. Much better. Not only did CP get his championship, he made sure Reyshawn Terry looked good too. Terry was a player but CP put him in position to get his first ACC offers. Reyshawn never looked as good as he did with Chris guiding his path.
Those last two years in high school Chris shared a lot of stories with me. He once told me a school asked him to walk-on. He would head over to Wake Forest, which was miles from his house, and watch a lot of practices and games. Even as a high school player, he was about team. Ever so close to his family, Wake Forest was the right fit for him and he committed in his junior year. He wasn’t going far. He was, however, preparing for his role as a Demon Deacon.
Skip Prosser would say, “At the beginning of the game I hand him the ball and at the end he hands it back to me in pretty good shape.” Coach wasn’t kidding.
One night Chris called me and said something happened to his grandfather. He was crying. Chris’ “best friend” owned a gas station. He would close the station to go see Chris play. Nathaniel Jones was murdered after closing the station one night.
Chris played the next game. I didn’t go to the game; I should have and regret it terribly. Chris Paul honored his grandfather by scoring 61 points, the age of his “best friend.” He shot a free throw out of bounds and took himself out of the game. I can’t write that line without getting emotional.
One time I took my girlfriend to watch Chris play. She fell in love with him immediately (she married me but fell hard for Chris). After the game, CP came up and introduced himself to her. She was hooked. Chris has a special way of giving a little piece of himself to you every time you see him.
As my wife was the most beautiful person at our wedding, Chris was the most uncomfortable. Like most males, he failed to fully read the invitation. Had he read for comprehension he would have noticed the wedding was outdoors. His black four-button suit was no match for the record September heat!
As the years passed and Chris became more and more successful I began doing something totally unfair to every guard I watched: I compared them to Chris. That’s unfair. It wasn’t then but it is now.
In 2002, at the Nike All-American Camp, there was a lumbering 7-footer from Canada. He wasn’t very good and there were a lot of observers and kids having a laugh at his expense.
I watched Chris Paul approach the gentle giant, attempt to put his arm around him – CP only got to his waist because the kid was 7-3 -- and gave the big fella encouragement. From that moment on Jerry Sokolowski played the best basketball of his life.
I went as saw one of Chris’ first ACC games. On my way out of Joel Coliseum I bought my wife a Chris Paul jersey, which received heavy play in her wardrobe rotation. Years later Chris sent my son a jersey and I couldn’t wait until he was big enough to fit into the No. 3 New Orleans Hornets gear. Of course I dressed him in the gear and let him grow into it. Some of my favorite photos of Michael were taken when he was wearing Chris’ jersey. They were planned, it just worked out to be the case.
When Coach Prosser died, Chris was asked to speak at the funeral. An hour before the service I was at his house. “DT, I don’t know what to say,” Chris said welling up. I told him it was OK and if he couldn’t do it, everybody would understand. Before he left for the service, CP grabbed a laptop and gathered his thoughts.
I don’t think he ever pulled out his notes at the funeral. He spoke passionately from his heart and I’d never been more proud of him. That boy I had the pleasure of getting know was now a man and it was the first time it hit me that he wasn’t a kid anymore.
This week Chris Paul made the all-star team. At this stage we’re way past the point of being surprised. Heck, he may even be the MVP of the NBA. However, that’s not what strikes me.
Now I’m not the only one comparing everybody else to Chris.