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Love him, or hate him, Chris Paul has earned basketball’s respect

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The Point God has finally reached basketball’s coveted mountaintop — and yet his journey remains unfinished.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

“Damn this feels good.”

It was a summation of so many things for the man they call the “Point God”: 16 grueling seasons, numerous trades, a slew of injuries, and countless tribulations those of us on the outside looking in are completely unaware of.

Take even this season with the Phoenix Suns — or heck this postseason into account: a nagging shoulder injury hampered his health in a first-round bout with the Lakers, before he was forced to miss two games due to COVID protocols in the WCF. And just a day prior to his epic closeout masterpiece in Game Six vs. the Clippers, he received an MRI for a wrist ailment that (unbeknownst to the public) had been bothering him throughout the series.

But through it all, Chris Paul weathered the storm.

The Suns’ tear through the Western Conference and into the NBA Finals is one that resulted from a number of key factors.

General Manager James Jones (2021’s Executive of the Year) served as a behind-the-scenes mastermind behind the roster’s construction, building upon past executives’ decisions to complement centerpieces like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton with ideal role players that supplied the squad with ample ammunition for every facet of the game.

Monty Williams’ servant leadership attitude did wonders for player development — and the NBCA Coach of the Year utilized a rare combination of strict instruction and raw love that allowed him to relate to his players in a special way.

And quite frankly, the Suns weren’t terrible prior to the 2021 campaign (see: their feel-good 8-0 run in the bubble).

But while all these men served invaluable roles to Phoenix’s newfound success, Chris Paul is the torch that fueled it all.

The intangibles he brings to the table are a rarity in today’s game, and even harder to find jam-packed into one player: leadership, poise, IQ and of course skill.

Winning is the name of the game, and Chris Paul’s presence has spearheaded victorious efforts everywhere he’s been — so much so that he’s earned himself his own noun in the basketball dictionary. Fans like to call it: the Chris Paul effect.

He catapulted on to the NBA scene after New Orleans selected him with its fourth overall pick in 2005, averaging just over 16 ppg, and leading all rookies in: points, assists, steals and double-doubles. In fact, Paul was just the second rookie ever to lead the league in defensive takeaways.

And New Orleans saw its on-court play improve rapidly. You don't secure a fourth pick without a trade unless you’re incredibly porous, and although the squad idled in mediocrity prior to Paul’s arrival, they slowly ascended up the West’s ladder at his behest.

The Hornets sealed a playoff bid in 2007-2008 after amassing a franchise-record 56 wins, and after dropping 35 in his playoff debut, and knocking off a talented Dallas Mavs unit, CP3 took the juggernaut Spurs to a surprise Game 7 in the second round before the embers of his fire blew out.

Nola would suffer first-round exits twice more (2008-09; 2010-11) before Paul was shipped off to L.A. in a blockbuster deal with the Clippers.

There, Lob City came alive. Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and a host of shooters and playmakers qualified for six straight playoffs from 2012-2017, dropping jaws and collecting hauls of bodies as they won two division titles.

Despite loads of talent at their disposal though, and huge memorable performances from the Point God, the group was never quite able to get over the hump.

Then came the infamous Houston fiasco.

Paul linked up with ready-to-launch lefty James Harden in Jan. 2017, and the pair immediately cemented themselves as favorites for best in the West upon joining forces.

They took care of business in both the first and second rounds of that year’s postseason, but after Paul succumbed to injury in the WCF against Golden State, Houston found themselves unable to sustain success in his absence.

Relations between Paul and Harden soured shortly thereafter, and Paul was shipped off to OKC for Russell Westbrook, prior to what many thought would be a throwaway year for CP3 as he withered with age.

But his career has been a consummate registry of a man not to be counted out.

Paul, and a slew of misfits and non-household names scratched and clawed their way to a playoff spot, and nearly took down his old squad, forcing them to a hotly contested Game 7 face-off that went down to the wire.

And then of course, came Phoenix in 2020.

The numbers tell a rich story of his contagious aura, and every franchise he’s newly become a part of has seen an immediate uptick in win rate.

But if those stats suffice as bolsters to his resume, the words of his peers decorate him as not only a beloved teammate, but a cherished friend.

Deandre Ayton: “I love CP, man. That’s really the only teammate that really pushed me, like big bro type push knowing what I got and that I never thought that I had. I think he was the best thing that ever happened to my career.”

Devin Booker: “I thought, when we played against each other the first time that it was going to be a love. But nah, I started talking [expletive] to him right away. What he says about, ‘We almost get to fight,’ and that’s because multiple times, we’ve had our disagreements on the court. I love him on my team.’ Those are the ones you want to go to war with. Those are the ones you want to put the jersey on for, and you know when it’s not your day to having people behind you, having that support system behind you gives you confidence to keep going.”

And if those salutes don’t paint a large enough picture, here is how his enemies act towards him, without him even having to utter a word:

Paul is undeniable. His 41-point, zero turnover show to vault his team to the Finals was a treat to be treasured — possibly the greatest performance of his career.

He now he has a chance to cement himself in NBA lore as a champion of champions. His mantra for the upcoming extravaganza will be the same as its been since his OKC days: “can’t give up now!”

For the sake of basketball, Chris, please don’t.