Making a Difference – Chris Paul

UPDATED: June 1, 2009
PUBLISHED: June 1, 2009

Chris Paul is one of the brightest stars in the National
Basketball Association, a must-see player with the New
Orleans Hornets whose deft ball skills and eye-popping
speed have attracted admirers all over the world. Yet,
Paul believes that in his hometown of Winston-Salem,
N.C., he is best known as the grandson of the late
Nathaniel Jones. “I seriously believe my grandfather’s
legend in Winston-Salem is greater than mine will ever
be. That’s what kind of man he was.”

Nathaniel Jones, feisty and independent, was the first African-
American to own a gas station in North Carolina. Jones’ popular
Chevron station opened in 1964 at the end of a rural Winston-Salem
road now built up with convenience stores and fast-food stops. Jones
became a legend in that area because of his spirit and the trust he
inspired in every customer for nearly four decades. Growing up, Paul
worked many summers at his grandfather’s gas station, operating the
cash register, rotating tires and changing air filters. By watching and
learning from his grandfather, Paul realized helping others was the
most important thing someone could do.

As he grew older, Paul became one of the best high-school basketball
players in America. His grandfather was there every step of the
way—including sitting at Paul’s side when he realized his dream
and signed to play college basketball with his hometown Wake
Forest University. On Nov. 14, 2002, family, friends and classmates
gathered in the West Forsyth High School gymnasium to watch Paul
sign his letter of intent to play basketball at Wake. At the end of the
ceremony, a beaming Jones took the Wake Forest cap he was wearing
and placed it on Paul’s head. “Christopher Emanuel Paul,” Jones said,
smiling, “I will remember this day for the rest of my life.”

“He was so proud,” Paul remembers. And then the next day, he
was gone.

In an unfathomable tragedy, Jones died after being beaten and
robbed by a group of teens as he unloaded groceries from his car in
his driveway. Five teenagers tied Jones’ hands behind his back, taped
his mouth, and beat him around the head and face. Jones, who had
a history of heart trouble, lay in his carport and died from cardiac
arrhythmia. He was 61.

“Most of the time, if you ask a kid who’s their best friend, it’s
usually a classmate or their neighbor or something, but for me, it was
my granddad,” Paul tells SUCCESS. “Everybody knew him—they
called him Mr. Jones. It was a Chevron station, but everybody
called it Jones’ Chevron. There were many
times people would come by and need to get gas, and
they’d be like, ‘Mr. Jones, can I pay you later?’ He’d be like, ‘Sure.’
Sometimes people would come back and pay him and sometimes
they wouldn’t. When you’re a kid, you just sit back and watch, and
you learn. You remember.”

everything I’ve done, I always just
hated to lose more than I like to win.” "

After he declared for the NBA draft following his sophomore
year at Wake Forest and was selected fourth overall by the Hornets
in the summer of 2005, Paul initiated a philanthropic campaign
designed to highlight his dedication to his grandfather’s spirit and
the Winston-Salem community. He established a scholarship
at Wake Forest named for his grandfather. He and his
family created the CP3 Partnership in conjunction with The
Winston-Salem Foundation to support charitable causes
such as Habitat for Humanity, Make-A-Wish Foundation
and Feed the Children, a Christian relief organization.

Paul and his family also launched “Winston-Salem
Weekend,” an ambitious four-day event they host each September. In
2008, he sponsored a concert by Grammy-winning rapper Ludacris,
keeping ticket prices to just $10; dedicated a computer learning
center; read to kids; played games with special-needs children;
helped distribute boxes of food to 400 struggling families; hosted
a formal dinner; ran a youth
basketball camp; and created
a pro-am bowling tournament that featured NBA players,
including best friend LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Kevin
Durant, as well as professional bowlers. And on Sunday, the
Lord’s Day in the Paul household, he invited everyone to church
with him.

His charitable efforts aren’t limited to his hometown though.
Paul also has donated food baskets and bicycles for underprivileged
children in New Orleans and Oklahoma City, where the
Hornets played most of their home games after being displaced
by Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

Paul says his commitment to charity is rooted in the relationships
he shared with his grandfather, his family and his hometown.
His CP3 nickname comes from his family, combining
his initials and, by coincidence, his jersey number. His father
(Charles Paul) and older brother and manager (C.J. Paul) are
nicknamed CP1 and CP2. It’s Paul’s family that makes sure he
remains grounded and not spread too thin.

“We’re really a tight-knit family, and we’ve always been like
that,” says Paul, who, in 2006, won the NBA Community Assist
Award for his charitable efforts.

As busy as he has been giving back, Paul’s four professional
seasons have been equally impressive. He was named Rookie of
the Year, is a multiple All-Star and All-Defensive team selection,
and led the Hornets into the second round of the 2008 NBA
playoffs. Paul was awarded a multiyear contract extension worth
$68 million and, to top it off, he won Olympic gold with the U.S.
national team last year.

Paul also received a prized endorsement
last year when Nike invited him to join
its exclusive list of players with their own
versions of a “Michael Jordan Brand” shoe.
Special design details incorporated into the
Jordan CP3II released in February make the
shoe unique to Paul, including the number
61 (in honor of his grandfather) on the heel
of every shoe. Paul says it’s important to honor the people
who helped shape him.

While Paul has a friendly and generous reputation off
the court, he’s as fierce an opponent as you’ll fi nd on it.
He attributes that to his competitive nature, which has
been a factor in everything he does.

“I think part of that is just never wanting to be average.
I have little cousins now, and I call them and ask them
how their grades are and how they’re doing in school.
They’ll say, ‘Well, I am passing.’ I am always trying to
tell them that’s not enough. Pass is what everybody does,
and there’s no way you can separate yourself like that. In
everything I’ve done, I always just hated to lose more than
I like to win.”

Paul, 24, has become the NBA’s point guard of the
future. He’s an unbelievable scorer, a great defender despite
his 6-foot size, a player who controls the game’s tempo, creates
opportunities for his teammates and challenges them as well.
LeBron James has called him the league’s best point guard
“because he had eyes in the back of his head.” Paul set even
higher standards for his position in 2009. He broke a league
record of 108 consecutive games with at least one steal, led the
league in both assists and steals while averaging 21 points a
game late in the year and, after finishing second to Kobe Bryant
in the MVP voting in 2008, once again was considered an MVP
candidate with James of the Cavaliers and Bryant of the Lakers.

Yet, all the highs Paul has experienced in basketball are
tempered by the losses he’s suffered, including his grandfather
as well as his college coach, Skip Prosser, a friend and
mentor who died of a heart attack at age 56 in July 2007. He
remains mindful of their gifts and lessons that contributed to
his success.

“The people back home who helped me get to the point where
I am today, I am extremely grateful for them. I know all the
different things that took place to make this possible, and I try
to give other kids the same opportunity and help them understand
that sports is not as difficult as life, but all of it brings
some disappointment. So there’s one thing you have to have,
and that’s family,” he says.

“It’s very important that anyone who asks learns how I
became the person and player that I am. And I became that
person because of other people.”