Should the Thunder retire Chris Paul’s jersey someday? Erik Horne from The Athletic threw that idea out there with the first sentence of his latest article. That idea does provide a very legitimate question. It would be a rather unconventional jersey retirement, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable in the slightest.
I’m not here to discuss why he should or shouldn’t be up in the rafters. I’m here to discuss how Chris Paul impacted a conservative-minded state with his authentic, liberal self while never veering away from his values.
When the New Orleans Pelicans got relocated to Oklahoma City in 2005 due to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Paul was 20 years old. Oklahoma City was his first experience as an NBA player. Though still the same sincere, competitive person he is now, Paul was at the bottom of the totem pole trying to prove his worth to league vets. That obviously worked out well quickly for Paul, who averaged 16.1 points, 7.8 assists, and 5.1 rebounds after his rookie season. His statistics, matched with an entertaining two-season campaign in OKC and his contagious aurora of positivity and genuineness won OKC Hornets fans over, quickly.
Paul was the first basketball star in Oklahoma that wasn’t playing for one of the state colleges. Chris Paul was OKC’s first Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
What have you done for me lately? That’s the society in which we live. After Paul departed from OKC, a few more years into his career, Paul became one of OKC’s prime villains. His tenacious play doesn’t always go over well with players and certainly not among many NBA fan bases. When he joined Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers, OKC turned on their former rookie phenom. They fell in love with the new guys who were rising atop the Western Conference. During that time, the Clippers and Thunder became rivals, and that was primarily due to Paul’s irksome ways.
Still, there was a remaining thread of love between OKC and CP3 between some fans.
Those same people changed their stance after CP3 got traded to the Houston Rockets in 2017 and cut Westbrook’s MVP season short with a dominant 4-1 series victory in the first round of the playoffs. It didn’t help that Paul’s scrappy play mirrored Patrick Beverley’s, a player that’ll more than likely live on OKC’s hate list for eternity. It also didn’t help that Paul played alongside James Harden, who OKC grew to despise as well. Essentially, Thunder fans already disliked the Houston Rockets, and all Paul did was join and become their leader.
Last summer, when the two franchises decided to swap out Westbrook for Paul, the news wasn’t well-received by fans. Expectedly, the city was heartbroken about Westbrook, and in their minds, they were getting an injury-prone, old, washed-up asshole in return. Those feelings didn’t subside in the ensuing days, where CP3 reportedly wasn’t happy about the unexpected trade to Oklahoma City.
Remember…what have you done for me lately? Despite the Thunder starting the new season 8-12, every game was close and exciting. Their average margin of loss was 7.8 points, so other than a couple of blunders the Thunder were competitive, and that was mostly due to Paul’s energy and fight. Thunder fans started to come around. There was a clear shift in OKC’s alliance from mid-December to early January when the Thunder went 9-1 in a 10-game span giving OKC a 20-15 record through Jan. 4.
Paul returned to OKC with the same energized, competitive, and positive attitude that he displayed when he first came to OKC in ’05. That drew the fans back in. The only difference was that Paul was 15 years into the league, 15 years older, 11 years into being a parent, and nine years as a husband. He was full of experience and willing to be a Yoda-figure to a young Thunder team.
This apparent ‘new edition’ of Chris Paul is what made Thunder fans fall back in love with him, although he never changed, but was misunderstood.
What’s admiral about Paul and this last season for him is all that he did for the group of guys that he knew he wouldn’t play with long-term. He showed an interest in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley, Dennis Schröder, and Terrance Ferguson’s development on-and-off the court, along with the rest of the team. He noticed the talent and wanted to maximize it for as long as he could, and he did.
What’s authentic about Paul’s season in OKC is that he did everything his way regardless of the criticism he received. Being in an election year full of controversy and undoubtedly the most unorthodox season in the league’s history, Paul had a tumultuous road to travel down as the president of the Player’s Association and leader of a young team. He dealt with Kobe Bryant’s death, the cancelation of a league that began in OKC, to working with league commissioner Adam Silver on a plan to get the NBA back up and running.
Meanwhile, in collaboration with his stylist Courtney Mays, Paul launched a campaign during the bubble where he practically served as a billboard for Historically Black Colleges (HBCUs). He repped a different school each game, including wearing custom-made shoes with the school’s logo on them.
Paul also worked with the Joe Biden campaign to help motivate people, specifically young people, to get out and vote in this year’s election. Paul was very vocal in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd. That just continued his vocal opposition to police brutality and fighting for Breonna Taylor’s justice. Paul was quite obviously against the presidential candidate that 65 percent of Oklahomans voted for. He didn’t care how his views on politics and social justice would be perceived by the fanbase that finally welcomed him back in. Paul stood for what he believed in and inadvertently forced respect from the same people that didn’t agree with him politically. He forced the same respect from those that were on the other side of black lives matter as well.
CP3 led the Thunder to an improbable season as the No. 1 clutch option in the league. He got his entire team registered to vote in the 2020 election. He donated tailor-made suites for his teammates. He worked with reporters, regardless of the questions asked. Paul did the improbable by revitalizing his career after 15 years while making OKC fall in love with him again.
Paul gets his flowers from me. Does he deserve a spot in the rafters alongside Mr. Thunder Nick Collison?