‘We Don’t Stop Now’ ­– Chris Paul Keeps the Focus on Social Justice in Orlando

On Friday night, the nation lost two heroes of the Civil Rights movement – Reverend Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian and Representative John Lewis. Both were members of the historic Freedom Riders, worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in the racially-charged 1960s and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former U.S. President Barack Obama honoring their valiant battles for justice.

While speaking to the media on Saturday morning after practice, Thunder point guard and National Basketball Players Association President Chris Paul explained his determination to not allow their monumental legacies or their decades-long fight for racial equality to be forgotten or overshadowed by basketball.

“Today is a sad day in that we lost two of the most powerful activists that we've ever had, C.T. Vivian and John Lewis. The impact that they had on America I think is unbelievable,” Paul said.

“I think a lot of times people look at us athletes as heroes and what we can do as far as dunking a basketball or throwing a touchdown, but the things that they did as human beings ... I don't think we do enough learning and teaching about,” Paul said. “I think that's more important than any other stuff that's going on down here.”

While Paul has played an instrumental role in organizing and planning the NBA’s path to restarting its season in Orlando, he has also been a major voice advocating for players’ ability to use their platforms to share social justice messages on the back of their uniforms. Some of his teammates shared their plans to take advantage of that opportunity. Both Dennis Schröder and Hamidou Diallo will be wearing Black Lives Matter on the back of their uniforms and Paul will wear the message ‘Equality’.

Continuing this dialogue in the bubble has been on the forefront of Paul’s mind from the beginning. However, in the wake of Lewis’ and Vivian’s deaths, Paul’s thoughts shifted to his two children who he is away from in the NBA’s bubble and the lessons they can learn from these icons.

“This morning, all I could think about was trying to educate my kids more on these things because at times we tend to teach them about athletics and sports and different things ... but I think the real education of some of these pioneers and these activists who fought, day in and day out, to give us these freedoms that I think we at times take for granted,” Paul said.

It’s a conversation he’s also having with his teammates such as Darius Bazley and fellow point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, two players Paul spends most of his time with off the floor.

Paul’s role as a mentor is less about the X's and O’s of the game and more about daily life. Taking care of their body, life as a Black man and how they can use their platforms as young, recognizable players in the league.

“I think that's the coolest part about being together right now in these situations is that we can talk, and understand what's going on in America right now, the different social injustices and ways that they can be active and the ways that they can let their voices be heard," Paul said.

This was part of Paul’s work over the past four months as his role as NBPA president reached unprecedented heights. With every new challenge facing the country, be it a global pandemic or a turbulent fight for racial justice, Paul has stood at the forefront as the voice for the players working hand-in-hand with the NBA to develop a course of action.

“I’m glad that he’s our president for the players. He’s been so active and sometimes it was even tough for me to call him because he not answering because he was on a call every time, every day,” said fellow veteran, Danilo Gallinari. “As you guys know, we’ve been approaching a lot of problems lately in the last three or four months ... He’s been a great leader in all of them.”

WATCH: Thunder Talk - Reflecting on Leadership

However, being in Orlando and playing five-on-five again doesn’t mean his work as the NBPA’s president falls to the wayside. He continues to check in with players and work with the league to provide feedback and areas of improvement for the bubble. All the while, he’s participating in practices, weightlifting sessions, team meetings and still manages to be a leading voice for change in the face of racial injustice.

“I don't know if there's been maybe another president in the history of the Players Association that's had to deal with something like this,” Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “I'm always amazed at how he can compartmentalize basketball, the Players Association, his family away from the court. I think that's what makes him unique and special.”

A 14-year veteran, 10-time All-Star, two-time Gold Medalist, nine-time All-Defensive selection, his basketball expertise and wisdom will be invaluable for the Thunder as it looks to recapture its high-level offense again. It’s this uncanny ability to facilitate and coordinate that will also be a major factor during the NBA’s time in Orlando to keep the conversation on social justice top of mind.

Playing basketball may be reason for being in the bubble, but Paul is extremely cognizant of the opportunity he and his fellow players have to be a powerful, united voice that can ignite real change. A perfect example – educating those at home of Civil Rights icons such as John Lewis and C.T. Vivian.

As the countdown continues toward the first game of the abbreviated regular season, Paul hasn’t lost sight of the cause. According to the Thunder’s point guard, there is still work to be done.

“For us, coming to play basketball is just a part of it," Paul explained. "There’s a lot of things going on in America that we can't turn a blind eye to so we'll continue to discuss things and figure out what we can do.”

“We can't stop just because we got here. We don't stop now so we gotta keep it going.”