Chris Paul Right at Home in NBA

BY foxsports • October 25, 2009

By: Ed Hardin

News & Record (Greensboro, NC)

GREENSBORO - Chris Paul's weekend has passed, and Chris Paul's homecoming, too. Thursday night, Chris Paul's basketball team came to the coliseum to play your Charlotte Bobcats.

He didn't get the welcome he deserved. A decent crowd showed up to watch, some of them here to see any number of other North Carolinians on the benches, and when the local schoolboy legend was introduced, it was without inflection.

"At guard, No. 3, Chris Paul," the PA announcer said with no apparent interest in stirring up anything against your Charlotte Bobcats. Thus, the NBA exhibition began.

Almost from the beginning, things were out of whack. There were the two teams on the familiar floor, one in teal and the classic stripes of our NBA past, the other representing Charlotte. The familiar uniforms no longer have pleats, nor do they contain players named LJ, Zo or Muggs.

Somehow, after all these years, Paul looked right at home in teal and stripes.

It's been long enough now that we should have them out of our system, but seeing an NBA game between the Charlotte Bobcats and the New Orleans Hornets still brings back memories of when this state was crazy about the NBA. It was a brief time, but it really did happen. Charlotte won the game 108-101, but it was of little consequence. That's the nature of NBA exhibitions, particularly these days with replacement referees policing the court. Larry Brown, still coaching after all these years, stood by the Bobcats bench and yelled the same thing over and over.

"Hey ref!" he said.

The modern NBA game is a lot like the one we remember from days gone by. It's louder and faster, and they sell beer. But it's the same game. And now that so many North Carolinians are involved, it has more ties that bind than when the Charlotte Hornets first came into existence in 1988. The modern game actually looks a little like the old ABA, which was played in our building from 1969 to 1974.

Paul would've fit in then, too. He's really a marvelous basketball player, one we watched go from the courts at Winston-Salem's Central YMCA, through West Forsyth and Wake Forest before somehow surfacing in New Orleans and not Charlotte in the NBA, something never fully explained by your Charlotte Bobcats brass, which was fired soon afterward and replaced by another brass section, one with a lot of Greensboro ties.

In fact, any bench in the NBA is likely to have ties to our area. Thursday, the benches included five players and four coaches and any number of support staff from North Carolina high schools and colleges. It's possible that even the dancing girls and possibly even the refs, too, had local ties, since no one seemed to know where they came from. The NBA has locked out its regular refs, thus the game is, shall we say, messed up right now.

"Is walking legal this year?" Paul asked, seconds into the game.

He hasn't changed through the years. People were stunned by his Sunday punch of Julius Hodge five years ago, but not the people who actually know him. In his early days in Winston, he was the city's ultimate gym rat, a kid who infuriated refs and opposing coaches alike, smiling while creating havoc in a game they were trying so hard to control. Paul has always been, in his mom Robin's words, feisty.

Now 24, he's one of the NBA's biggest stars, the rookie of the year in 2006, twice an all-star and now an Olympic gold medalist. And yet, he's never really left home.

"This has been special coming home," Paul said. "I love playing in front of friends and family. It's been great."

He's mentioned in songs by rappers Ludacris and Lil Wayne, was a guest on National Public Radio game show "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me," has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and in countless television commercials.

Yet, three weeks ago, he returned to Wake Forest for the filming of "Homecoming with Rick Reilly," an ESPN tribute show honoring his life and times in Winston-Salem. A week later, he hosted Chris Paul's Winston-Salem Weekend, a series of charity events designed to put money back into his hometown through his CP3 Foundation.

"Homecoming was special," he said. "I got to see people I hadn't seen in 10 years. And the Weekend is always special to give back to the community. This is home, and tonight was probably the last time I'll be this close to home until, well, hopefully June."

Unlike some other locals who made it big and promised to give back, Paul really has. And continues to. You have to wonder what it would be like were he to play for your Charlotte Bobcats, which they were referred to about 100 times Thursday night. The modern NBA game is hardly recognizable, in many regards, to the game we saw born in Alexander Julian-designed uniforms more than 20 years ago. But the modern NBA player certainly is. He's from right here, at guard, No. 3, Chris Paul.

Contact Ed Hardin at 373-7069 or