There’s a difference between winning and being a
And even before Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals tips off Tuesday
night, we can say for certain: Chris Paul is a winner.
The “Point God,” he’s called. For 16 long years, he’s maximized
the talent behind him, plied his trade and seen plays happen before
they did. That’s the hallmark of a true floor general — on the
basketball court, while he’s barking directives and trying to
determine where to send the ball, he needs to be able to see the
Perhaps ironically, as the sun sets on his career, it rises in
Phoenix. Paul saw dawn before everyone else.
After leading the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder to an improbable
playoff berth in 2020, general manager Sam Presti made good the
same way he did with Paul George. Presti, it has long been
understood, did his best to take care of those who gave him their
all. It’s obvious that Paul did.
So when the time came for the Thunder to move on and fully
embrace their youth movement, Paul was asked an important question:
Where did he want to play next?
Over seven months after answering it, as he celebrated his first
trip to the NBA Finals, he remembered.
“A big thanks to Sam Presti for even allowing all of this to
happen,” Paul said in reflection.
He could’ve asked for a ticket to Los Angeles, asking OKC to
accept cents on the dollar so that he could join a super-team with
his good friend LeBron James. He could’ve demanded a trade to
Milwaukee to join the then-reigning back-to-back Most Valuable
Player in Giannis Antetokounmpo. While his large contract certainly
limited his trade options, he also could have negotiated a buyout
and signed with any contender around the league. If Paul had become
an unrestricted free agent, he would've received interest from
nearly every team (especially if he was willing to accept a bargain
deal). However, as president of the Players' Association, Paul
didn't want to set that precedent and leave money on the table.
Instead, Paul looked at the upstart Suns — he saw Devin Booker,
Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Cameron Payne — and
said to himself: Give me those
Winning with the deck stacked in one’s favor isn’t the same as
winning against all odds. Self doubt showed up at the front door of
Paul’s condo in Oklahoma City. He answered and chuckled in its
To Phoenix we go.
“I just love to hoop,” Paul would often say in the Thunder
When asked about his future, he’d respond dismissively: “I’m not
thinking about that right now."
As one of the game's biggest stars and leader of the NBPA, he
couldn’t help but to always find a camera staring at him or a
recorder in his face. The league, including his constituents, was
dealing with COVID-19, the Bubble and a historic protest in the
wake of the murder of George Floyd.
From afar, though, despite Phoenix failing to qualify for the
playoffs, Paul saw daylight breaking in the desert. Bravely, in the
twilight of his career, he went all-in on what could have been the
final hand of his career and doubled-up.
He ended up bringing Phoenix where he couldn’t bring the Los
Angeles Clippers; he got the Suns to a place he couldn’t quite get
the Houston Rockets.
When it came down to it, with Paul having one last chance to win
the championship that long eluded him, he opted to take his talents
to a place in which he saw himself as the straw that would stir the
drink, not just another ice cube in an already cold cocktail.
At the end of the day, Paul wanted to compete, and in
an NBA where stars conspire to stack the deck in their favor — in
an NBA where the path of least resistance is all-too-often chosen —
Paul decided to do something different. And we’re all better off
When the next young superstar (or two) decides to move on to the
next chapter -- be it Donovan Mitchell, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant or
whoever -- they’ll learn something important from the example Paul
set: the harder the journey, the sweeter the victory.
Yes, Anthony Davis, Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard didn’t have
the opportunity to thwart Paul’s Suns, but injuries have always
been a part of the game. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson each
suffered catastrophic injuries in the 2019 NBA Finals. Draymond
Green’s suspension and Andrew Bogut’s significant injury certainly
played a role in 2016.
If you look hard enough, you can always find a way to discredit
these accomplishments. Haters are gonna hate.
Suddenly, it seems so long ago that Paul was thought to have one
of the worst contracts in the NBA — four years, $160 million is
what he signed for in Houston after the Rockets came within one
game of winning the Western Conference in 2018.
Shortly thereafter, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta reportedly believed it was “the
worst contract" he'd ever seen, "in business or sports.”
Run out of town by James Harden and Fertitta, Paul took his
aspirations to Oklahoma City, restored his value and then decided
to take the road less traveled when Presti asked him to chart his
Apropos to his opting for Phoenix, instead of throwing a tantrum
and holding out to become the next superstar in a legacy of
super-team building, Paul believed he could be the center to his
I can win in Phoenix, he thought.
When no one else did, Chris Paul believed. The Suns are rising,
and he saw it before us all.