Point: Chris Paul is the Problem

Published: December 3, 2011

Be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.
Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V, William Shakespeare

Yeah, I said it.

Chris Paul is the problem.

He doesn’t have to be, but he is.


It’s not his offense, his defense, his size, his knee, his durability, his dedication, or his character. It’s not any of the stuff that normally comes up in Chris Paul discussions.

It’s that right now he’s under contract to the New Orleans Hornets, and the Hornets are facing simultaneous challenges that no other team has faced. That’s not to say that there weren’t other teams that faced tragic circumstances, just that this is truly a unique and dire situation.

This is not the time or place to recount the well-documented challenges to this franchise and this city, but let it be known that this extraordinary situation requires extraordinary measures and extraordinary people.

Chris Paul, beyond the shadow of doubt, is an extraordinary person. He was born great and achieved greatness. Put aside the talent that, were it fire, would vaporize a diamond. Forget having one of the best NBA minds in history. Check at the door a character that is beyond reproach and should be the largest source of pride for Mr. Charles and Mrs. Robin.

The problem is his courage. Chris Paul has displayed bravery on the court beyond what can be reasonably expected. This includes driving to the basket, guarding centers, taking charges, and diving after balls risking his health. He’s clearly played hurt, and he’s played for 48 minutes when other were hurt.

That’s not what the problem is.

The problem is looking greatness in the eye and not blinking. The problem is putting aside that sense of self and those dreams he’s been carving out and polishing his whole life. The problem is accepting the challenge he’s been dealt and beating his forehead against it until he kills it and or at least stains it with blood and cerebrospinal fluid as he grins his last grin.

The problem is the greatness that was thrust upon him.

No one asks to be drafted by a, frankly, poor franchise (in every sense of the word). No one dreams of their home or job turning into a disaster area. No one demands that the weight of the future of a franchise, the image of a cultural treasure of the world, or the expectations of millions to be placed on their shoulders at the age of 22.

Nevertheless it happens.

People face challenges every day. They lose limbs because someone (maybe them) didn’t follow a procedure. Their children are born with debilitating conditions. Their parents end up needing more care than a baby with a razor blade.

And they look those challenges dead in the eye, put their dreams aside, and become and bona fide hero. Nobody’s hero, maybe, but a hero nonetheless.

Chris Paul finds such a challenge placed before him. It’s ok to waver. It’s ok to stumble. He’s just a man, after all.

When asked about trade speculation in the Summer of 2010, Chris said,

“My first choice is to be in New Orleans,” Paul said in a telephone interview from London. “I just want to make sure we’re committed to winning. If we’re not committed to winning and trying to get better so we can contend with the Lakers, the Celtics and all these other top teams, then I’m open to being traded.”

This, in and of itself, is not a bad answer. The man can’t predict the future or just commit to the franchise blindly, especially when it’s in such turmoil, when relocation was a specter visible perhaps to only a few. He can, however, not compound the problem with toasts. He can not strengthen his similitude to other superstars who recently left less successful teams.

He can just demand a trade and get out if that’s what he wants. He can just lay it all out on the table if he can’t not torment his fans. He can talk to his manager, work it out to mutual benefit, then have it all come out later.

He has every right to play where he wishes and to talk about it, but we have every right to resent the cat-and-mouse game.

I don’t want someone in the role of hero that isn’t interested in being a hero. I don’t want to praise someone as a savior who isn’t a savior. I’ll praise the talent, the effort, the grit, but I don’t want a great player here for mercenary reasons. I don’t want one here out of pity either. I want a guy leading my team (yeah, it’s my team as much as it is anyone’s as far as I’m concerned) that lacks that fundamental bond to this city, its people, and our legacy.

That lack, if it’s there, will be sensed by everyone. People that correctly fill the role attract other such people. They are a flambeaux, leading the parade, attracting people to the parade, and broadcasting to those being approached: We’re coming.

There is no doubt in my mind that Chris Paul can be that guy. I also have no idea who that could be if not him. My favorite Hornet, David West, is not that man. I’ll take D any day of the week, but he’s just not that guy. He’s a guy-behind-the-guy guy.

Without Chris, this franchise would have had no chance of staying here post-Shinn. Without Chris, thousands of season tickets would still be in Hugh Weber’s desk drawer. We will owe Chris Paul tons regardless of whether he stays or goes.

But the work isn’t done.

He needs to keep doing what he’s doing whether people come to “witness” or not. If you shine, people will look for you every day and every night.

He needs to spend time in this city to show he’s one of us. If you eat with us, we will break bread with you and break heads for you.

He needs to represent us no matter the situation. If you say something kind about the millions, the millions will sing your praises.

Stars beat back the darkness, the deepest and most expansive of abysses; they shut down the night. That’s what stars do . . . real stars.

If Chris Paul won’t commit to us, even if only privately, only in this thoughts, if Chris Paul won’t become at stabilizer, a beacon, a magnet, if Chris Paul won’t be a hero, then he isn’t the superstar we’re looking for.

Move along.


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