It took nearly a week and several tries, but the New Orleans Hornets finally put together a deal to trade All-Star point guard Chris Paul before the start of the 2011-12 NBA season — and before free agency barred the team from getting anything for Paul upon his inevitable departure. News that Paul had been traded to the Los Angeles Clippers generated mixed emotions across the Crescent City last week. Fans were both relieved at the prospect of picking up three good players and a first-round draft pick in exchange for Paul and, at the same time, saddened at the thought of losing one of the city's genuine heroes.
In every respect, Chris Paul has been an all-star both on and off the court. In the New Orleans Arena, he dazzled fans and opponents alike with his ball-handling skills and his ability to take control of a game. Probably the most memorable thing about Paul's career as a Hornet has been his unselfishness as a player. In his six seasons with the team, he averaged nearly 19 points a game — yet he easily could have posted another 10 or even 15 points per game had he not passed the ball off to teammates so often, typically right after driving past an opponent into the lane. There can be no doubt that Paul was a major reason why local hoops fans, prodded by the Hornets' catchy "I'm In" campaign, scooped up season tickets even during the lockout to show community support for the team. By early December, the Hornets passed the 10,000 season ticket mark — selling the most season tickets in the NBA in the last half of 2011, a major accomplishment for any team.
Paul has been equally inspiring as a citizen. His CP3 Foundation raised money for kids and families in New Orleans and in his native Winston-Salem, N.C. Locally, his CP3 Afterschool Zone gives children a chance to participate in a variety of activities, including yoga, dance, karate, cooking classes, gardening and more. The program aims to enhance and promote education, health, sports and social responsibility. He also helped rebuild several New Orleans Recreation Department playgrounds after Hurricane Katrina. As recently as last month, he sponsored exhibition games with fellow superstars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Durant, John Wall and others — all to raise money for his foundation.
Lest anyone think Paul's charitable efforts or his professed feelings for New Orleans were just PR, consider his opening remarks to the media upon his arrival in Los Angeles last Thursday (Dec. 15), the day after his trade was finalized. "There's no way I can talk about the future and what the future holds without paying homage to the city of New Orleans and its fans, and my friends and family in that community who have made me who I am for the past six years," Paul said. "This has definitely been an unbelievable time for me and my family because New Orleans took me in from day one as one of their own, and I will continue to do as much work there as I can in the community. I have an after-school program there, and my kids in the CP3 Afterschool Zone — if you're watching, I love you kids and I miss you guys — but I just want you guys in New Orleans to know that you'll always genuinely and seriously have a very special place in my heart." Then, after pausing a moment, and almost as an afterthought, he added, "And ... I'm excited to be here in L.A."
Paul's character shines even more in contrast to the high-handed manner of NBA Commissioner David Stern, who, as the de facto current owner of the Hornets, scrapped the team's first trade of Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. Fans across the country blasted Stern's handling of the trade, so much so that he ultimately relented on the latest deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Paul's next appearance in the New Orleans Arena will be March 22, when the Hornets host the Clippers. We have no doubt that he'll be back before then, however, to continue his work with the CP3 Foundation — and to continue his love affair with New Orleans. You'll always have a very special place in our hearts, too, CP3.