Chris Paul admits to having spent the lion’s share of his life as the shortest guy in every room, which means he usually had to shout – or raise his hand – to be heard.
“As a short guy, I had to find ways to be noticed,” the 6-foot-tall Houston Rockets point guard admitted. “But I didn’t let it hold me back. I intentionally sought out leadership positions as early as the seventh grade by joining the student council and holding positions that could affect change. And on the sports side, I always played point guard in basketball and quarterback in football.”
On Thursday, Paul – and a group of other professional athletes, retired and active, plus working professionals in and out of sports – held court at UNC-Charlotte to a group of over 150 African American boys from Charlotte, all with dreams of becoming the next CP3 or the next forensic scientist.
The inaugural Open Court All-Star Male Youth Summit, organized by the Urban Education Collaborative at UNC-Charlotte, Rise2Impact (a nonprofit dedicated to uplifting black boys) and Fathers and Men of Professional Basketball Players, offered real-talk advice to the North Carolina teenagers who don’t often have the opportunity to be heard.
Paul, a native of Winston-Salem, didn’t hold back, telling the young men to “put those cell phones away, please …” while expressing the importance of making eye contact when speaking and introducing themselves by their first and last names.
“My name is Chris – it’s a common name,” the 14-time NBA All Star who starred at Wake Forest said. “I introduce myself as Chris Paul – because I want to be remembered, period. I learned from my parents and grandparents and at church that simple things like making eye contact, a firm handshake, ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ are things that never get old,” continued Paul, who has made a career of being a leader on and off the court (he was re-elected as the president of the National Basketball Players Association in 2017). “Your time is precious – and my time is precious too – so I want to make sure that while we’re here, let’s look each other in the eye and talk. These simple things don’t happen enough today – everybody is too busy getting photos for their IG and their Snap.”
(Photo Credit: Alan Lux Studios)
Paul and fellow NBA star, Karl-Anthony Towns, were the surprise guests for the day after the boys had been treated to a full menu of other working professionals including doctors, entertainers, entrepreneurs and media professionals. All of the talented speakers reinforced the same hymnal about the importance of hard work, good manners, having a plan, being good citizens and staying in school.
“I didn’t just wake up one day being seven feet tall and good at basketball,” explained Towns, the fourth-year center for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “I put the work in when others were off doing their own thing and even when it wasn’t the cool thing to do, and I’m here to tell you that if you have a passion, and not just a passion for sports, you owe it to yourself to dedicate yourself to it to be the best you can possibly be.”
This collaborative venture by Dr. Chance Lewis, director of the Urban Education Collaborative at UNC-Charlotte, Charles Paul, president of the Fathers and Men of Professional Basketball Players Association, and Jerry Duncan, the director of Rise2Impact and a Charlotte teacher who has worked for the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets in media relations, was launched in 2012 and dedicated to nurturing black boys. With their connections to athletes and other working professionals, the trio was intentional about creating memorable experiences for the boys, giving them opportunities to meet positive role models to add to their network.
“We’re all role models, but we have to remember the ones coming up behind us,” said Duncan, whose program also provides ACT/SAT preparation tutorials, college and career planning. “It’s critical that these young men know that they have options. It’s important that they see what they can become, and it was important to us that we introduce them to people in various fields.”
(Photo Credit: Alan Lux Studios)
Throughout the day, the boys were treated with prizes and other giveaways – including signed game-worn sneakers and autographed jerseys from various NBA players – all courtesy of Jordan Brand and Coca-Cola.
Paul shared some insight into his life, telling the boys that while basketball has afforded him a great life for himself and his family, success hasn’t come without sacrifice. “I play basketball 10 months a year,” he told the boys. “My nine-year-old son doesn’t expect to see me in the stands at his basketball games, and that’s just his reality – so if you’re going to pursue a passion, do it with everything you’ve got but understand that nothing in life comes without sacrifice.”