When you’re watching him on the hardwood, it’s hard to disagree with DeMarcus Cousins’ assessment of Chris Paul: “I dislike him a lot.” CP3 doesn’t just stay frosty on the court, he’s a completely different person. Once the ball gets thrown in the air, or really the moment he steps between the end lines, Paul morphs into a hyper-competitive freak who would chew off his own arm, or that of his opponent, to get an edge.
Off the court, the Clippers point guard — who turns 30 today — is the face of State Farm ads, humbly attends church every Sunday, participates in an annual bowling event that raises money for his CP3 Foundation, and does more for post-Katrina New Orleans than anyone who isn’t still playing in New Orleans. He’s the very definition of a model citizen, and a well-respected figure across all nationalities and creeds. Most of us would vote off-the-court Chris Paul into office and he’s generally considered one of the most likable and affable guys in the NBA.
On the court, he would cut your throat and be too busy burying your corpse to notice your last gurgle of breath. This discrepancy might lead some — like Boogie — to question Paul’s authenticity, since he compartmentalizes the two sides of himself so well. But in today’s NBA, he’s the perfect amalgamation of charisma, cool, and cold-blooded alpha. His split personality mirrors that gulf in the game itself and the way we fans view their favorite players.
NBA players today talk about their #brand. It’s tiresome to the old farts who grew up in an era when players just played, and ignored most marketing pitches from their agents, or deleted the from their answering machines. Today’s social media hubbub didn’t even exist in the 90s and early aughts and that era wasn’t so long ago. But the increased brand awareness of today’s NBA player is a good thing, both for the players and the league itself.
NBA stars should maximize their earning potential as much as possible during their brief window of dominance. This is partly because the NBA is implicitly a socialist Association, ironically run by captains of industry who have excelled in America’s free market system (that free part is a misnomer by the way). Since superstars have a ceiling on their salaries, they must look elsewhere to acquire wealth, and not just riches.
With his State Farm ads, Jordan Brand line of kicks, and deals with Avon, Foot Locker and Kaiser Permanente, Paul earned $5.5 million in off-the-court endorsements last year, according to Forbes. That’s some excellent ROI, even if State Farm has begun to overexpose Paul’s visage a tad during playoff coverage. Paul’s maximizing his earning potential, and that not only helps him, but the NBA as a whole. He’s a great ambassador so long as he’s not physically on the court playing basketball.
Those State Farm ads provide a nice framework for the fractured nature of Paul in public and the more-cloistered-than-you’d-guess atmosphere of an NBA court. Lost amid the in-arena noise from the fans, the obnoxious DJ’s (not DeAndre Jordan — disc jockeys) and screechy sound effects, is the wail of Chris Paul as he excoriates teammates, refs and opponents. He’s a pest, a menace, and we haven’t seen someone his size so thoroughly intimidate people on the court since Allen Iverson.
Unless you’re actually in the arena, though, you don’t really notice — and if you do, most fans applaud that sort of behavior these days. It means you’re a tough, no-nonsense player capable of reaching the necessary degree of focus to hold high the Larry O’Brien Trophy. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves, even if it’s only partially true.
Nothing pisses fans off more than a nice sports star. Before Nike’s awesome “The Baddest” campaign, and his derisive comments about the media during February’s All-Star break, Kevin Durant was just a chill guy. The nice, laid-back KD was an example to youngsters and someone everyone wanted to hang with him; he was like George Gervin, if people were actually watching the NBA in Iceman’s era. Nike capitalized on this appeal by selling a ton of sneakers in that time, and people pointed to Durant as the antithesis of LeBron James’ and his nationally publicized decision. These days, however, the 2014 MVP is a self-proclaimed dick and while we’re still buying his sneakers, he’s turned into a title contender rather than a guy you’d simply like to play 2K with in your living room.
Chris Paul has always been like this latter-day Durant, but only on the court. He’s not going to castigate the media like KD and his prickly OKC co-star, but if he disagrees with a call, or he thinks you’re holding him on the rebound, he will let you know, and the language will be as harsh or as crass as it needs to be to get his point across.
We’re going to call this belief badness equates greatness the Kobe Jordan corollary. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are considered by most basketball observers as the best overall players from the last two generations — wings are more endearing to the public than big men because fans can empathize with people who aren’t so tall, so Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Shaq have every right to refute that last statement — and their sociopathic personalities now act as a harbinger for future NBA excellence.
MJ and Kobe personify excellence across such a broad, multi-generational spectrum of basketball fans, most believe their path to greatness is the only one to take. More than a few NBA players feel this way, too, including Paul (though Tim Duncan and the Spurs — like all things having to do with NBA culture — must be considered outliers to this hypothesis). CP3 is a huge Jordan fan, like every other basketball fan already in their 30s. We’re not just idly speculating when we write that Paul’s on-court snarl is a perpetuation of MJ’s own countenance of destruction, or that of MJ’s jaw-jutting scion.
Chris Paul is the perfect embodiment of what we want in 2015’s NBA superstars. This now means he’s two people at once: the smiling, humble “Cliff Paul” pitchman for State Farm and the NBA Cares program, and the perpetually scowling, abrasive, dictatorial floor general you need to win an NBA title. We should all revel in his dichotomy because it’s the best way for Paul to make so many of us happy. Even if the real Chris Paul is someone we’ll never truly know because — like all of us — he’s a medley of both.