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Dan Bickley

Chris Paul’s greatness, leadership should elevate Suns

Chris Paul # of the Phoenix Suns controls the ball during a game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena on December 14, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah.(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Maybe you’re like most Arizona sports fans. Extremely casual. Catching up on the fly. Eager to know more about the Suns new star point guard.

And maybe you ran across this headline from ABC News in 2002:

“Hoops Player Scores 61 for Slain Grandpa.”

That player was Chris Paul. It was only half the story.

Back then, Paul was more than a star high school basketball player in North Carolina. He was senior class president. He was best friends with his grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, who ran a service station in Winston-Salem.

Paul helped out at the shop. Granddaddy – as Paul liked to call him – always closed up early on game days. That’s how they rolled.

Their relationship crested on Nov. 14, 2002, when Paul committed to Wake Forest University, staying close enough to home so his family could always watch him play. He commemorated the event by donning a Demon Deacons hat that belonged to his grandfather.

Many years later, Paul wrote this for The Players’ Tribune:

“He walked up to me and gave me a big hug, and he put the hat on my head, and I remember he was smiling so big, with those loose teeth in his mouth, because he was rocking the dentures. And he said, ‘I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life.’”

The following day, Jones was found murdered at age 61.

Granddaddy was beaten, bound, mouth covered with duct tape, robbed and left to die outside of his home. Paul was at a high school football game when he heard the news and rushed to Jones’ home, hoping it was fake news. It was not.

To honor his granddaddy, the grieving Paul famously scored 61 points in his next basketball game, one for each year of Jones’ life. With two minutes left, he had reached 59 points. He drove the lane for the final time, fouled while converting a layup. He purposely shot an air ball and walked off the court.

The story resonates because Paul has played two games since his offseason trade to the Suns. His physical skills might be diminished with age, but his leadership skills remain breathtaking. His commitment to lifting another group of unproven teammates, at age 35, in his fifth NBA city, in the twilight of his career, is absolutely remarkable.

But not surprising.

As a sophomore in college, Paul led Wake Forest to its first No. 1 ranking in school history. His arrival in the ACC so upset the balance of power that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski once started a walk-on (Patrick Davidson) against Paul just to agitate the rising star, one leader declaring war on another. Davison began fouling and harassing Paul immediately after tipoff, and tempers flared.

I once made the mistake of asking Krzyzewski about the bizarre decision to start a goon against a player like Paul. He’s never looked at me the same since.

Paul has so much in his rearview mirror. So many successes. So much respect, statistics and money accrued. And from what I can tell, he hasn’t lost a bit of his famous fire.

It’s refreshing to know hunger will not be an issue with Paul, who is already pestering, pushing and prodding his new group of teammates.

Suns fans are so traumatized by the ongoing 10-year playoff drought that many would settle for a meager postseason berth in 2020-21. Please understand that Paul doesn’t have time for your low standards. He abhors load management and alibis. He is coming off a season in which he led Oklahoma City to 44 wins and a No. 5 seed, and these Suns are far better than that Thunder team.

Paul also has a great track record of moving his big men up the mountain, sometimes to uncomfortable heights: David West, Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Clint Capela and Steven Adams.

Deandre Ayton has more raw talent than any of his previous centers.

At the very least, Paul will demand maximum effort and attention to detail. That’s all it will take to make Ayton a perennial All-Star, and no longer a divisive figure in the Valley.

Paul also comes to the Valley as the best point guard to never win a championship, better than Steve Nash, John Stockton and Allen Iverson. Like Nash, he’s never made the NBA Finals.

Let’s hope that changes before his time here is through. He deserves nothing less.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier