How NBA Star Chris Paul’s Father Sparked His Love for the Game and Pushed Him to Greatness
When my brother CJ and I were small kids, we always wanted to go with our dad to watch him play basketball. Even though he played football in high school, Dad loved basketball and would be on teams and leagues throughout Winston-Salem. We would be all over the place, running on the worn wooden bleachers, just watching my dad hoop. Rooting for my dad really helped us develop an early love for the game—we wanted in. The love of basketball was a gift from my father that I’ve always wanted to pay forward. CJ and I told Dad how bad we wanted to play, and he responded like a dad who loves his kids and knew how much we loved the game.
When we were four and two, Dad bought two of those little plastic Fisher Price Nerf Goals and constructed a full court in our basement. He used red electrical tape to create makeshift foul lines, and we went to work, running back and forth from line to line just like the pros. When we grew a little older, Dad built a basketball court at the bottom of the hill behind our home, so that CJ, the neighborhood kids, and I could hoop anytime we wanted to. Once Dad saw us taking extra interest in the game of basketball, that’s when the real training started.
My brother and I were the hardest working five- and seven-year-olds you ever saw in your life. My dad was also a fan of the NBA. He loved how good George “the Iceman” Gervin was with his left hand as a right-handed player, so he wanted that for CJ and me. Dad used to tie our right hands behind our backs so we could do anything with our left. And on the basketball court, he used to make us tuck our right arms inside of our T-shirts so that we couldn’t even use that hand at all. And once our left hands developed and we could finish with both, Dad started blindfolding us on the court so we weren’t able to just follow the ball with our eyes. It was confusing at first, because CJ and I would run into each other, or into the basket, but we figured it out.
Given all this training he was doing, one thing that my daddy hated more than anything was lowering the hoops. He did not play that at all. He was training us like adults and thought this would instill bad habits in our games. Every kid wants to lower the rim to throw lobs and dunk like they’re Dominique Wilkins. We were kids at the time, so you know CJ and I lowered the goals while Daddy was at work. Now remember, there were no iPhones, no digital alarm clocks, so we didn’t know when he would be pulling up. Those days he caught us in the driveway dunking sideways and backward and throwing alley-oops. Pops would get out of his car yelling, “Put those goals back up!”
He was mad because he was training us to be better, but also because we had broken the first two rims by hanging on them, doing our best Darryl Dawkins impressions. I laugh now thinking about the first time I saw Lil Chris dunk on somebody after lowering the rim, remembering how my dad didn’t play that. When it came to Lil Chris, I saw what my dad was thinking. The last thing a father or grandfather wants to do is make things too easy for their kids. They need resistance to get better—it goes back to Papa teaching us to be relentless—but damn, it was fun to dunk like a seven-footer when the rims were lowered by two feet. Those big guys have it easy as hell.
Once those rims went back up, it was right back to Dad’s strict methods, which meant no horsing around. Dad’s methods worked so well that by the time CJ began playing AAU, he felt very comfort- able dribbling with his left hand as a right-handed person—and I experienced the same. Once I got to high school, I was way ahead of the game because my father already had me thinking and training like a pro.
Dad wanted CJ and me to be the best, so he trained us to be the best, and I can honestly say I hated it all the way up until I loved it. Even now, I get up extra early so I can get to the gym early because I love it. It’s fun to me. I am very open when my strength and conditioning team has new things to try. You always have to be willing to continue to get better.
Excerpted from Sixty-One: Life Lessons from Papa, on and Off the Court by Chris Paul with permission. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher.