Some things are bigger than championships, like the impact Chris Paul made over his Hall of Fame career.
After the Milwaukee Bucks rattled off four straight wins behind historic performances to overcome a 0-2 deficit, we knew the Chris Paul slander would come.
“He’s the first to ever blow four 2-0 series leads.” … “He’ll never win the big one.” … “I bet his twin brother Cliff isn’t even real.” …
The multitudes of hot takes will keep pouring in — one more insufferable than the next — until something new captures NBA Twitter’s attention. Yes, championships are the all-important bottom line but winning the NBA title stands as an incredibly arduous feat. Especially when you overlap with Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Stephen Curry and LeBron James.
Paul lands (safely) in the top-10 point guards to ever play and (contentiously) in the top-5 depending on who you ask. The #RINGZ crowd will always hold the championship void against him or shoot him up the rankings if he takes one down. But this Ricky Bobby, smooth-brained mentality has flaws. Mainly, plenty of the best players to ever grace the hardwood never won a championship and plenty of guys lesser than Paul have fingers adorned with jewelry.
If Paul were to get a ring as a bench player instead of a star, would that really move the needle for how he’s remembered?
For all of his dirty play and flopping — which deservedly need to be mentioned — he’s the grandmaster of veteran savvy, manipulating the game and working the margins to his liking. His Hall of Fame résumé includes being an 11-time All-Atar, 10-time All-NBA, 9-time All-Defense, Rookie of the Year, and leading the league in steals six times and assists four times.
And somehow his genius only grew alongside his longevity. In wrapping up his 16th season, Paul became the monster of the mid-range. I mean, just look at this:
The degree of difficulty on that fall-away 12-footer over a guy a foot taller than him is insane. What’s crazier, Paul makes a half dozen similar shots every game. It takes a towering amount of training and skill to master the craftiness and angles to thrive in the league despite being the shortest person on the court.
Chris Paul has consistently taken his teams to a higher level
Even without a title, Paul’s legacy is being the rising tide that lifts all boats. Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston, OKC again (with the Thunder this time), his latest stay in Phoenix … he made every team better.
He held the Hornets franchise together after Hurricane Katrina displaced them to Oklahoma City. He gave the Clippers legitimacy for the first time in their non-storied history. They went 32-50 and missed the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons, then locked in the No. 5 seed after forming Lob City and turned into a perennial postseason fixture. The Thunder won 44 games with him before tumbling to 22 wins this past season. He helped lift the Suns out from the dregs and an 11-year playoff drought to 51 wins, the No. 2 seed in the West and the Finals.
Now at age 36, with almost 38,000 regular-season minutes on his odometer, Paul ostensibly only has a few more seasons left. Although, it’s hard to reconcile that with the more efficient than ever 16 points and 9 assists he put up as an All-NBA Second-Teamer this year.
Maybe he gets one next year. Or, maybe further down the line as a veteran ring-chaser in his twilight. I have to assume he’d take one either way and nothing would make him happier than hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy as his face burns in sweat and tears.
While it’d make for a movie script ending, his place in the history books is mostly written. Ultimately, adding a championship to his ledger shouldn’t impact his standing (not that much, at least).