Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Everybody Loves Chris: Happy Birthday Edition

Posted by on Tue, May 6, 2008 at 9:34 PM

by Alejandro de los Rios

So today is Chris Paul's birthday and, accordingly, local blogs are marking the event with Chris Paul blog day (read the roundup here). Though this isn't technically a Hornets blog and I'm not technically a blogger (I prefer the term "online journalist" because, well, I'm a tool) I still thought it appropriate to post my thoughts.

First, some disclosure: A couple of years ago, I used to hate Chris Paul. Not on any personal level — how could I considering I only first met him a couple of months ago — but on a crazy fanatical level. See, I grew up outside D.C. in Maryland and, thusly, became a die-hard Maryland basketball fan. Paul played for Wake Forest. Anyone who knows anything about ACC basketball knows that if you're a fan of one team, you hate all the rest. It also didn't help that Paul consistently killed my Terps, a team I thought (and still think) should be in the ACC's top-3 every year (along with Duke and UNC).

Flash forward to a couple of months ago when, while doing a report for ESPN the Magazine, I got a chance to briefly talk to Paul after a Hornets practice back in November. I don't remember exactly what we talked about (surely something along the lines of "where would you most like to travel?") but I do remember that Paul was one of the most approachable and down to earth athletes I'd ever encountered. Here he was, emerging NBA star, listening intently and giving me honest, thoughtful for what were otherwise silly questions.

I'll stop short of saying that I'm a Hornets fan — my D.C. ties and irrational loyalty make me a Wizards fan for life —but I can't help but root for this team. Much of that has to do with that first encounter with Paul, once which he could've brushed off and given me half-assed answers and thus furthered soured my image of him, but instead completely transformed my opinion of him, as well as encouraged me to pursue more credentials and further cover this team.

Really, this city couldn't ask for a better athlete-ambassador. Sure, Reggie Bush came in with much more hype and fanfare, but how much did he really contribute to the Saints improbable playoff run two years ago? Did he lead his team like Paul has led the Hornets? Absolutely not. And now, does Bush even approach Paul in terms of national celebrity and image? Me thinks not. That's all thanks to Paul being No. 4 in league-wide jersey sales and for all his community service work in the area.

Moreover, because the NBA is a much more accessible league than the NFL, Paul has achieved a sort of Herculean image in this city: he's accessible enough so that he's not a God, but with everything he's done on the court and off, you can't help but think he may be more than just a man.

With all this in mind, it's no wonder that, at least for today, Chris Paul rules us all.

Happy Birthday, Chris Paul. May all of yours be celebrated in the middle of playoff runs.

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