One-on-One with NBPA President Chris Paul: Leader, Mentor, Humanitarian and Game-Changer

(NBPA)

NBPA President Chris Paul always remembers the day he decided he was going to declare for the NBA draft. It was in the spring of 2005 in Winston-Salem, N.C., after his sophomore season at Wake Forest.

The moment gave Chris not only clear direction about his future, but also how he wanted to carry on his family’s name: being a catalyst for change in different ways throughout his career.

That day, Paul stopped by to have lunch with his father, Charles, at IGIS Electronics, where he worked on the assembly line making surveillance cameras. When Paul arrived, Charles was sitting outside eating at a picnic table with his colleagues. The mood was joyful. Charles wasn’t on the verge of getting laid off, which happened to him several times when Paul was growing up, sending him to work at his grandfather’s service station.

As Paul was driving away after the lunch, he teared up. He thought about how his father never complained and how his parents never pushed him to make it to the NBA, telling him, “We’re with you with whatever decision you make.” He also thought about how committed his parents, Charles and Robin, were to the community, and he wanted to do the same as a professional.

Paul not only went on to perfect the pick-and-roll in the NBA, but he also expanded his foundation efforts way beyond Los Angeles and New Orleans where he’s played—from opening technologically advanced computer labs around the country and to a new house for orphaned children in South Africa. He was also named NBPA President in Aug. 2013, and even with all of his other business and community obligations, he still runs his own AAU program and elite basketball camp.

Recognizing his leadership, mentorship, philanthropy and game-changing contributions, Paul received the ESPN award for Sports Humanitarian of the Year on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

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(Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

“I like striving to win championship after championship after championship. But you see the legacy that some people have, and it doesn’t always have to be sports related,” Paul told the NBPA recently in an extended interview in New York City. “When Muhammad Ali passed, people talked about how great of a fighter he was, but people talked about what he stood for. So when I think about different things, I think about things that will last. Philanthropy has been something that I’m very into.”

When Paul was younger, his family would take him and his older brother of two years, C.J., 33, to their church’s soup kitchen and they’d work there through the night. The brothers washed cars and sold doughnuts, learning what it took to raise money for their AAU team. They also worked at the service station. “I remember one time through the radio, my granddad was giving away dollar gas,” Paul says. “My family was always there selflessly.”

Their parents even invited local kids, who didn’t have father figures around, to stay with the entire family at their house on the weekends.

“My dad made sure we didn’t take anything for granted and helped people that were in need,” C.J. says.

L to R: Chris Paul, his wife, Jada, Robin, Charles, C.J.'s wife Desiree and C.J. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

L to R: Chris Paul, his wife, Jada, Robin, Charles, C.J.’s wife, Desiree, and C.J. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

Those experiences giving back had an immediate impact on Paul in 2005. The first project he worked on after being drafted was starting his CP3 Foundation, and he built a court in Winston-Salem to honor his grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, who died in 2002. Paul famously scored 61 points in a high school game two days after he was murdered—the same total as his grandfather’s age.

Now 11 years since it was established, it’s now called the Chris Paul Family Foundation, as Paul wanted to fully represent those closest to him who are very involved with his charitable work. The All-Star’s list of initiatives has expanded to four pages and growing, organized by his manager Carmen Wilson.

“It’s Chris’ character, integrity and determination that set him apart as a person,” says his agent, Leon Rose. “He has such a strong foundation and a strong set of core values that go into everything he does. All you have to do is look at his family to understand what Chris is all about.”

Paul is a scholar. He created the Nathaniel Jones Scholarship, which gives two students an academic and athletic opportunity every year to attend Wake Forest. Eighteen students have been rewarded.

Paul is a host. He arranges holiday gifting and Thanksgiving meals for disadvantaged families. This past Christmas holiday, he and entertainer Kevin Hart went to four different Targets in LA over a course of a day, shopping for presents with around 100 kids at each location. He also organizes his annual CP3K Walk in Los Angeles in partnership with LA’s BEST program to promote safe after-school environments. The event has included 6,000 kids.

Paul and Kevin Hart. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

Paul and Kevin Hart. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

Paul is a partner. He works with Shoes That Fit to supply new footwear to children who live in underprivileged communities. 1,000 kids have been impacted. He provides grants and tickets to sporting events for Leaps n Boundz, a sports and recreation program for children with disabilities and special needs. He assists Vision To Learn with providing free eye glasses and vision screenings to students in need. And he collaborated with ONEHOPE Wine‎ to make his own signature bottle, with proceeds from each sale going to his different community programs.

Paul is an ambassador—for the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and Laureus Sports for Good, which focuses on harnessing the power of sports to promote social change.

And, most importantly, Paul is always present at his various community events.

“It’s not like he’s calling on the phone and making sure it went well. No, he’s there,” says his close friend and NBA player Jannero Pargo, who played with Paul in New Orleans from 2006-08. “His time is more valuable than anything.”

In addition, for the past five years, Paul and his wife and college sweetheart, Jada, have hosted a prom dress giveaway in LA and North Carolina. It’s for girls who can’t attend the big night due to financial restrictions. 800 girls have benefited.

Jada (wearing the Girl T-shirt) provides new looks for the prom. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

Jada (wearing the Girl T-shirt) provides new looks for the prom. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

“He’s always been active in the community, and it started in New Orleans when he first got there,” says another close friend, Willie Green, a former NBA player who also teamed up with Paul in New Orleans in 2010-11 and then later with the Clippers. “That was around the time Hurricane Katrina had hit, so immediately Chris got active in the community—and when the team moved to Oklahoma. He just has a big heart and his family is the same way, his wife is the same way. They’re always willing to give back.”

For mostly everything he does, Paul brings along Jada and their two children, Chris, 7—who he calls “Little Chris”—and Camryn, 3. In the same way Charles and Robin were loving and inclusive parents, Paul says it’s a “no-brainer” to have Chris and Camryn accompany him at his appearances and on the set of his commercial shoots. In fact, “Little Chris” joins his dad in the State Farm ads.

“Nobody loves basketball more than me, but nobody loves their kids more than me either,” Paul says. “Jada and my kids provide amazing balance to my life. I don’t know what I’d do without her there to help me make important decisions. The toughest part about my life is being away from my wife and kids as much as I am during the season. I know I’m providing, but still it’s nothing like being there with them.”

 

Latest Focus: Bringing Technology to Underserved Children

Two years ago when Paul and Jada took “Little Chris” to his first day of school in LA, the star point guard was struck by how advanced the technology was in the classroom. There were iPads, smart boards, PCs and Mac computers. Paul then started thinking about the other side of town, in Watts, and how they didn’t have the same advanced resources.

That’s when Paul approached his business team, featuring C.J., Rose and Wilson, with a big idea: bringing that same technology to impoverished educational centers across the country. He wanted to make this a key focus of his Family Foundation.

Paul visits a Boys & Girls Club in the Watts, neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

Paul visits a Boys & Girls Club in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

“At this point in Chris’ off-the-court career, he is looking for meaningful connections on projects working with people who share his values—mainly making a positive impact on people in some way,” Rose says. “He very often comes to us with ideas based on conversations he is having or things he is seeing. Even more important, a lot of times these ideas come from him seeing a problem that needs solving.”

When Paul was thinking about technology as a necessity for classrooms, he was inspired by the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has helped to reduce new malaria cases by 25 percent, and deaths from the disease by 42 percent. “That’s something that you can put a number on. That’s big,” says Paul, who, along with LeBron James, had dinner with Gates and Warren Buffett four years ago. “And the big thing with the computer labs is the fact that everything is digital now.”

“When me and my wife visited my son’s school, I got frustrated,” Paul says. “I got mad and I was, like, ‘While I feel blessed and fortunate that my son gets this opportunity here, why doesn’t this kid on this side of town get it?’ So that’s our mission: to try and level the playing field as much as possible.”

Thus far, Paul has already installed new technology at 10 different educational centers in four states. The locations include Los Angeles (three Boys & Girls Clubs and the Brotherhood Crusade), New York City (Boys & Girls Club), Oakland (Boys & Girls Club), Portland (Alder Elementary) and Winston-Salem (two Boys & Girls Clubs and a youth center).

This coming Monday, an 11th technological contribution will be made to a Boys & Girls Club in Chicago, making it five states for Paul’s reach in this realm. Then in August, the foundation will add computer products and a golf simulator to a Boys & Girls Club in Carson, Calif. Later during the season, about four more facilities nationwide will receive an upgrade.

“The thing is it’s not just for the kids; it’s for the parents, too, because a lot of these parents also are not as technologically savvy,” Paul says. “Right now, it’s all about giving them the accessibility. Like doing homework now, kids have to go online and find stuff, but a lot of kids in these inner cities don’t have that access. They’re losing those opportunities to maybe go to different colleges and explore things.”

Paul is so invested in technology that he launched his own branded app last November called Game Vision for athletes to strengthen their visual reaction time. And on July 22, he’s involved with the launch of Muzik, dubbed as the world’s first smart headphone that enables users to share songs to social media right as they’re listening to them.

While someone of Paul’s global stature could have many more business deals, C.J., who manages his brother’s partnerships and business development ventures, says, “Everything we do is authentic. Some people don’t realize it, but you never see Chris involved in something that he isn’t about.”

(Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

(Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

Paul is carefully connected to and invested in every one of his off-the-court interests. In fact, in the fall of 2014 when he heard that a teenager named Jack Gallagher had lost his mother to brain cancer and dedicated his CP3 Jordan Brand sneakers to her, he called Wilson at six in the morning. “We have to find this kid,” he told her.

The very next day, Paul invited Gallagher to attend an upcoming Clippers game in Detroit, where they had a private and heartfelt chat together courtside and he presented the aspiring basketball player with three pairs of his sneakers.

“He treats everybody like family. He just makes everybody feel like they’re special,” Pargo said. “He doesn’t come off as, ‘I’m Chris Paul,’ like he’s a big deal. He’s just humble. He can be getting ready to put the spoon in his mouth and if someone’s asking for a picture, he puts it down and he takes the picture.”

 

Building on Brotherhood in the Community

Paul has also taken the lead on some major community activations among his close friends James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. They all joined the NBA around the same time—2005 for Paul; 2003 for the others—and developed friendships through Team USA, the AAU circuit being close in age and Jordan Brand (Paul and Anthony, with Wade being a former endorser).

This year, when Paul had the idea of supplying three months of clean water to the residents of Flint, Mich., they all pitched in together.

“They constantly are supporting each other however they can,” Wilson says.

Last summer, when Paul and Jada visited a children orphanage in Ennerdale, a suburb of Johannesburg in South Africa, he was taken aback to see 10 kids in each house with only one female figure to take care of them. After he decided to fund his own residence in the area for three years, working with SOS Children’s Villages—which creates stable housing accommodations for orphaned and abandoned children—he told Anthony, James and Wade about his endeavor.

Paul with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James at this year's All-Star Game. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

Paul with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James at this year’s All-Star Game. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

Now, all three of them are planning to get involved.

“When I returned back from the orphanage, I found out how much it cost to sponsor a house,” Paul says. “And I told those guys about the trip and how amazing it was. I said, ‘Hey, fellas, I want us to donate some money to these houses.’ They hadn’t been there, but because they know me and trusted me, they said, ‘OK.’ I think that’s a testament to the friendship and the bond and the brotherhood of me, Bron, Melo and D-Wade.”

Paul envisions more from the four of them in the future. “We’re talking about ways to make bigger impacts,” he says. “There are more conversations to be had.”

What’s also special about the brotherhood is that their sons are all around the same age. While “Little Chris” is seven, Anthony’s son, Kiyan, is nine, James’ sons, LeBron Jr. and Bryce, are 11 and nine, respectively, and Wade’s sons, Zaire and Zion, are 14 and nine, respectively.

“It’s real cool,” Paul says. “It’s going to be cool one day that they go play college basketball and to go watch them play. That’s your real legacy—with your kids.”

Thank you @8760experience and my guy, @AlPalagonia @ApolloJetsLLC for a great flight!

A photo posted by Chris Paul (@cp3) on

 

Running Point on the Court

Paul’s career is also unique for how many lives he’s touched around the NBA. In 2006, he founded both his AAU program in Winston-Salem, Team CP3, and Elite Guard Camp for the country’s top college and high school guards. And last year, he partnered with D1 Sports Training, which specializes in sports training, rehabilitation and physical therapy, to launch the company’s new Winston-Salem location.

NBA players P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock and Brice Johnson, who was drafted by the Clippers this year, played on Team CP3. And Duke product Harry Giles, an alum of the AAU program, could be a top-three pick next year. As for Paul’s Elite Guard Camp, standouts like Eric Bledsoe, Stephen Curry, C.J. McCollum, Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker have attended.

Paul actively follows all of their careers on social media and stays on them for encouragement through calls and texts during the season, whether they’re in the NBA, college or high school. He calls the connections “very special.”

Paul at his annual TopSpin charity event last year in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

Paul at his annual TopSpin charity event last year in Las Vegas, along with fellow NBA players. (Photo courtesy of Chris Paul)

“I almost get emotional talking about it,” Paul said. “Like the bond that I have with the kids that have came through my AAU program, it’s nothing like it. We’re really like a family. We try to culture that in that guys that come play with my AAU program, whether it’s two years, whether it’s one year. Everybody’s not going to make it to the NBA, but we still treat it like a family.”

C.J. says his brother makes himself “always available” to answer any question because he loves sharing knowledge, especially about the pick-and-roll. “Whenever I talk basketball with somebody, I tell them that’s one thing that I feel like I know better than anything,” Paul says.

Rose says Paul will reach out on his own to mentor the younger clients who belong to his agency, CAA. In fact, Timberwolves rookie Kris Dunn said the day before the draft that the first moment he realized his NBA dream would become a reality is when he met Paul.

Even with all of his basketball and community projects, Paul is also the NBPA President. This August will be three years in that position. During his tenure, he feels he’s helped build camaraderie among the players and opened up the dialogue in meetings. He always encourages feedback and different perspectives.

“I’ve been in a lot of different situations, so I’ve really developed an ability to follow and also delegate,” Paul says. “We also have an amazing board of representatives. Guys are really focused on growing the game. I think a lot of times people try to think of professional athletes or whoever as being selfish. But you see some of the most selfless guys in those meetings. People would be amazed at how guys talk about the next up-and-coming guys, and not just about the right now.”

So what’s next for Paul with everything he has going on? Where does he see himself beyond basketball?

For starters, he says he wants to play six or seven more years—not because of his body—so he can be full-time with Jada and the children during their early teenage years. He feels he’s already been away too much.

Paul addresses his peers at the NBPA's annual summer meeting last month. (NBPA)

Paul addresses his peers at the NBPA’s annual summer meeting last month. (NBPA)

While NBA coaching would appear to be the obvious answer to his post-career, Paul is not interested because of the travel demands. However, he will continue coaching on the grassroots level. Last week, he was on the sideline with Team CP3 at the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C., and later this month he’ll be in Las Vegas for The Eight tournament.

The overall answer to what he’ll do in retirement is a “little bit of everything.”

“The thing that I want to be able to do when I am done playing is to still travel and be involved in business, because I’m so competitive,” Paul says. “You still want something to drive you and to push you, but I want to be able to see some of my kids’ games or whatever my daughter’s doing. I want to be there and see it, and actually have the choice to do it.”

In the Paul household, the backbone of family always stays strong, giving him the greatest motivation.

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