The legacy of Chris Paul is just four games away from being complete.
The game of basketball has been good to Chris Paul but it’s also been really cruel at times. It made him rich, it also gave him rich famous friends. All in all it’s given Paul power and a platform.
It’s built him a legacy. From his days at Wake Forest in the storied ACC, to his moments as “The Franchise” in Charlotte, to his maestro magnificence as a Point GOD running the floor with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and The Lob City crew in LA.
But there was one thing that the 11x All-Star, 10x All-NBA and 9x All-NBA Defensive player wanted most. The one thing that had eluded him throughout his illustrious 16-year Hall of Fame worthy career; a shot to play in the NBA Finals and have an opportunity to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. The same one that his boys LeBron and D Wade hoisted a combined seven times in their illustrious careers. Two of those came together as leading men on the Miami Heat.
Paul’s other basketball brother, Carmelo Anthony, has the fame and fortune and the respect as a social activist in a transformative era for athletes. But he never got to the promised land.
Paul now has that opportunity.
At the core of everything that is Chris Paul, winning is all he wants to do and he’ll do just about anything to win. It’s why his antics — from flopping to knowing the rule book like the back of his — can wear on the fans, while baiting his opponents at the same time.
We saw how masterfully frustrating Paul can be when Patrick Beverly pushed the heck out of him in the waning moments of Game 6. A clincher in which the career 16.4 points-per-game-player dropped 41 on the supposed “best defender in the NBA.”
But again that’s why he exploits those margins so often. It’s also why he’s traveled from New Orleans to Los Angeles to Houston to Oklahoma City to Phoenix.
He’s been searching for this.
On Wednesday night at Staples Center he led the Phoenix Suns to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993, when Charles Barkley won MVP and almost brought “The Valley of the Sun” a title.
The ultimate goal is still four wins away, but it’s something about seeing Paul hoisting a trophy in the Western Conference where he’s spent his entire career. The conference they said was impenetrable as long as LeBron and Steph Curry were resided there.
Seeing him put on a championship t-shirt and hat looked and felt right.
Upon leaving the floor, he and head coach Monty Williams embraced and as Williams said, “we’ve been together through the worst and now best of times.”
Paul buried his head into the chest of Williams, after giving a nod and clap to his family up in the suite. This was his moment and it was well-deserved and hard-earned.
“All that stuff that had to happen for us to get here, right?” Paul said, that emotion almost spilling over again. “It’s just part of the process.”
Paul’s process has been unlike any of his peers, his greatness unquestioned but his ability to avoid calamity unavoidable.
Paul referred to himself as an underdog after the Sun swept the lower-seeded Nuggets. That ruffled a few feathers around the league. After all he was a McDonalds All-American coming out of high school, who easily looked the part of a generational point guard in college and the pros. But I guess when you look at everything that’s gone wrong for Paul since he hit the league, you could see why he considers himself a bit of an underdog.
From the overruled trade to the Lakers, then ending up with the Clippers. Blowing a 3-1 lead to the Rockets in 2015, and then him getting hurt and blowing a 3-2 with the Rockets in 2018 as they had the Warriors juggernaut with KD intact on the brink of elimination. To his falling out Harden in H-Town, and then ending up in OKC making them a No.5 seed in a year they were thought to be looking to tank. To now being in Phoenix and reunited with Monty and headed to the NBA Finals.
With the game hanging in the balance and the Clippers having cut a 89-72 lead to 89-82, Paul re-entered the game and did what he does and that’s close the door on the Clips and the series. He dominated. Much to the delight and chagrin of movie star Billy Crystal, a lifelong Clippers fan who is also a close friend of Paul’s from his years with the Clips.
Paul has displayed an uncanny ability to lead anywhere now he’ll get the chance to maybe write the storybook ending that so many dream about by winning an NBA title. And ending that solidifies his journey as one of the best to ever do it.