Broad Shoulders: NBA Cares Award Co-Winner Chris Paul Took on Responsibility Locally and Nationally

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter & Digital Editor | mailbag@okcthunder.com

In a fast-paced world, it’s rare that people have the time, attention or discipline to add more to their already full calendars. Throughout the 2019-20 season, Thunder guard Chris Paul managed to heap more responsibility onto his shoulders and did it with grace and composure.

He looked around at his local community of Oklahoma City, at the NBA’s puzzling quandary of re-starting play amid a global pandemic and racial injustice, at the needs of fellow Black people in the United States and the unity of the country and its democracy as a whole to see how he could help.

On Thursday, the NBA recognized that voluntary adoption of responsibility – and the broad shoulders which Paul utilizes to flow seamlessly from one cause to the next – by naming him one of five players to win this year’s NBA Cares Community Assist Award. The recognition comes with a $10,000 donation to charity from the NBA, which will be given to the Chris Paul Family Foundation. Paul’s year-long journey of giving back started in his new, yet old hometown of Oklahoma City.

Fresh-faced out of Wake Forest University, Paul came to OKC in 2005 with the New Orleans Hornets, who temporarily re-located in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Incredibly, 15 years after his rookie season, his NBA career returned him back to Oklahoma City to join the Thunder. He immediately re-immersed himself into the area. Though the skyline and downtown has changed dramatically, the people are still as warm and loving as Paul remembered.

“My first time leaving Winston-Salem, North Carolina was coming here to Oklahoma, and the fans were unreal, unbelievable,” said Paul. “To see the community and the people, that's what I always said; the people here, the fans here, make this city what it is.”

Paul was a big hit with local kids at an all-team Thunder event at Positive Tomorrows, a school for homeless children, and at an outing with Citizens Caring for Children at Dave & Busters. He also hopped aboard the Rolling Thunder Book Bus alongside Danilo Gallinari. Paul handed out a children’s book about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr at the elementary school in Oklahoma City named in the Civil Rights leader’s honor.

The future Hall of Famer also took the time to make an impact in Oklahoma City with his own charitable events. He teamed up with the Family T.R.E.E. organization to re-furbish a 30-year-old basketball court for families in the Child Welfare System.

“They just want somewhere to play, a safe haven,” said Paul. “And that’s what kids should have.”

Just before the holidays, Paul, donning a Santa hat, joined Big Brothers, Big Sisters at a local Target to dole out $100 apiece to the kids in the program with one caveat – that at least one gift in their shopping spree had to be for someone else. Paul, a former Big Brother himself during his high school years in Winston-Salem, soaked in every moment of seeing kids bond with their mentors and pick out some items to make their holidays bright.

“It’s so cool and special. It’s something that never gets old,” Paul said. “There’s nothing like putting smiles on the kids’ faces.”

Expanding his scope of influence beyond OKC’s city limits, Paul and Roadside Entertainment announced they will be producing a docuseries about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and in particular the challenges those schools face in competing with bigger programs. Throughout the season, Paul often wore clothing representing those higher education establishments, including Langston University, Oklahoma’s only HBCU.

“I talk about HBCU's and try to champion black colleges all the time,” said Paul. “I'm excited to partner with schools that sometimes get overlooked.”

Down in the bubble in Orlando, Paul took NBA viewers on an HBCU tour of sorts with his pre-game walk-in attire. Many of his family members attended Winston-Salem State, which he represented at a playoff game. He also showed support for North Carolina A&T, Alabama A&M, Howard University, Livingstone College, Albany State University, Savannah State University, North Carolina Central University, Southern University, Bluefield State College, Alabama State and Langston during the seeding games and the postseason.

“We’ll keep trying to educate each other as well as myself so that these young kids know that they can go to these schools and become doctors, lawyers, teachers. Not just athletes, they can be whatever they want to be,” said Paul.

With two children of his own, Paul often thinks about the futures of American youth. After the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others during the hiatus between March 11 and the start of the bubble in Orlando, Paul and other NBA players were extra focused on the safety of Black teenagers and young adults. As the President of the National Basketball Players’ Association, it was up to Paul to help the NBA re-start the season inside the bubble while also addressing the concerns of its most prominent employees: the players, a majority of whom are Black.

Paul helped negotiate the messages that could be worn on the back of jerseys, the way teams knelt with reverence during the national anthem to honor American citizens who were killed and reach a commitment with the 30 NBA governors to donate $300 million over the next 10 years to combating injustice.

“There's a few things that we wanted to see happen and the jerseys are part of it, but we know that we need the money and the funding to really make change,” said Paul.

“We're going to keep talking about the subject at hand,” Paul added.

Paul put his own money behind his voice as well, starting the Social Change Fund alongside Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony as a way to champion policy solutions, community representation and sustainable change to help Black people all over the country.

All the while, Paul carried a mentoring role inside his own locker room, taking 20-year-old rookie Darius Bazley along with him to meetings and helping him register to vote for the first time. To Bazley it was inspiring to see one of the very best leaders in Oklahoma City, the NBA and the entire country go about his business, offering up his time and attention to provide solutions to difficult problems.

“Chris knows that it's bigger than him,” said Bazley. “Every answer he gives, it's always greater than him.”

“Chris is very selfless,” Bazley added. “He’s able to put all that on himself and put a load on his shoulders because he has a why.”

One way that Paul focused on being a leader publicly was through encouraging people of all ages, all backgrounds and all races to go out to the polls and vote. His message was not targeted specifically to the upcoming national election. He emphasized that every single election cycle at the local, state and federal levels are all crucial to creating branches of government that are responsive to its constituents.

“The more we encourage each other to vote, not just every four years but two years in your local elections and things like that, the more we do that, the more our voice will really be heard,” Paul said.

As citizens, in Paul’s mind, it is each person’s responsibility, not just their right, to announce their viewpoint through the ballot box. A government cannot see every problem clearly or understand the volume it carries without getting 360 degrees worth of perspectives on election day.

In his own way, Paul spent the 2019-20 season trying to look around at what is on each side of him, doing his part to make people’s lives around him a bit better than they were the day before.

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"Be heard" - @cp3

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