During his three-year hiatus from All-Star Weekend, Chris Paul had some time to think about the NBA’s mid-season showcase. It should be no surprise that the NBA Players’ Association president had something in mind to bring to the table when he was once again selected for the All-Star Game this year.
After coaching in the TBT (The Basketball Tournament), Paul proposed using the Elam Ending employed in that competition to finish out the 2020 All-Star Game. The rule this year stipulates that at the start of the fourth quarter, the target score to win the game is the point total for the leading team’s score, plus 24, in honor of the late Kobe Bryant.
“Being in the league so long, being on the competition committee, I’m always trying to figure out different ways that our game can continue to grow,” said Paul at the NBA’s All-Star media availability on Saturday morning. “The Elam Ending is a way to keep the game even more exciting.”
What that means is that no matter what, tomorrow’s All-Star Game will end on a game-winner. There will be more anticipation and excitement to be sure, and also more pressure on the players.
“Sometimes people get tense and tight and don't want to take that shot so it's gonna be interesting to see tomorrow,” said Paul.
After making the All-Star team for nine-straight seasons, Paul wasn’t selected in 2017, 2018 or 2019, but returned during his first season with the Oklahoma City Thunder by putting together one of the most efficient seasons of his career. He’s averaging 17.4 points on 48.5 percent shooting including 36.2 percent from behind the arc and 89.8 percent from the free throw line. His long-time NBA colleague and close personal friend LeBron James tabbed Paul to be on his team this year for the point guard’s 10th All-Star nod.
In front of an assorted crew of media from Oklahoma City, the rest of the United States and around the world, Paul spoke on Saturday about proposed NBA schedule changes, his status on Team USA and how long he plans to the NBA but most of the focus was on how the Thunder has fared this season and his excitement to be back at All-Star Weekend.
“It’s a busy, sort of long weekend, but it's exciting especially if you've never experienced it,” said Paul. “And it's nice to be able to enjoy it with the people that you love.”
“When you make it a certain amount of times you just get used to going,” said Paul. “It’s unbelievable to be back. It’s something you never take for granted.
One of the main reasons Paul was able to re-ascend to an All-Star level has been the meticulous way that he has approached his diet and care for his body. When he first came into the league and played for the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, Paul had the eating habits of a teenager but steadily improved them over time. Coming full-circle, Paul has run into a bunch of now-Thunder fans who supported him and the Hornets when he was in OKC back in 2005.
“The cool thing about my time now in Oklahoma is that when you’re in the league it goes by a lot faster than you realize. I see people like games and they’ll have one of my jerseys from my rookie year,” Paul said, noting that some of them were in elementary school during his first stint in Oklahoma City.
This off-season before being traded to the Thunder, Paul decided to go plant-based and has reported incredible results. After playing just 58 games each of the past two seasons, Paul is already at 54 games played at the All-Star Break for Oklahoma City and he hasn’t missed a single game due to injury. That consistency and availability gave the Thunder an All-Star in its 11th-straight season, the longest current streak in the NBA.
“Changing my diet has changed everything. I don’t have all the muscle soreness or all that different type of stuff,” Paul noted. “My best nights now have been on the second nights of back to backs.”
Paul’s vitality has been essential to the Thunder’s on-court success, and his leadership has helped propel the Thunder to a 33-22 record through 55 games and the sixth spot in the Western Conference. With just 27 games to play, OKC is 8.5 games ahead of the ninth spot in the conference and just five games behind the number two spot.
“We compete every night. We play together. We have a great group of guys,” said Paul. It’s by committee. We just take what the game gives us.”
While shining in his own role, Paul has also helped one of the Thunder’s budding stars flourish as well. Paul’s travel buddy to Chicago for All-Star Weekend has been Thunder second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who competed in the Rising Stars game on Friday night and is lined up to participate in the Skills Competition on Saturday night. With the quickness and athleticism of a 21-year-old, Gilgeous-Alexander has had some plays run for him this season with the Thunder that used to be run for Paul in past years.
While Paul has introduced SGA to situations that let him use his gifts to succeed, Gilgeous-Alexander has taken the lessons to heart. As Paul sat courtside at the Rising Stars game, he noticed one of them. As a loose ball bounced out of bounds and into the first row, Gilgeous-Alexander rushed to grab the rock and delivered it to the referee as quickly as possible so his World team could inbound the ball before the USA team was ready.
Even at age 34 and 15 years in the league, Paul is still learning some things from Gilgeous-Alexander too.
“It’s really cool playing with Shai. One of the biggest things with the younger generation as they come through the NBA, you can’t tell what hand they are,” said Paul. “The way Shai uses his off hand is crazy.”
As Team LeBron moved on from media availability in the morning to a practice in the early afternoon, Paul took to the floor with someone even younger than Shai – his son Chris. “Little Chris” got to test out his skills as his dad, LeBron James, and former Thunder guard Russell Westbrook all gave him some pointers.
Little Chris mostly worked on ball-handling, which is one of the skills that made his father one of the greatest point guards in the history of the game. Paul has a career assist to turnover ratio of 3.96-to-1, and that level of care traces all the way back to what he learned from his college coach at Wake Forest University, the late Skip Prosser.
“My college coach used to say, ‘I’m going to give you the ball at 7 o’clock and I want you to hand it back to me in good shape at 9:30’,” Paul recalled.
Paul is a player who carries memories deep within him, incorporating into his life the legacy of those who impacted him – from his grandfather to his father, from Prosser to Bryant. Paul and Team LeBron will also displaying that type of recognition on their jerseys this year. Every player will be wearing the number 2 on Sunday night to recognize Gianna Bryant, Kobe’s daughter, who also passed away in the tragic accident in January.
“Being a father of two kids, especially a little girl, that’s special,” said Paul.