Chris Paul’s late career resilience inspires perseverance
What do an NBA pro and a mature student have in common?
With the Phoenix Suns’ entry into the NBA Championship against the Milwaukee Bucks, Chris Paul is finding himself in unfamiliar territory. Throughout his largely successful NBA career both on and off the court, Paul has never made it to the NBA finals up to this point. Marred by injury, it has become a regular playoff occurrence to listen to a stunned crowd as the superstar falls to the ground, injured and unable to continue to the playoffs. While many athletes battle injury, the sheer volume of calamity that befalls Paul is truly staggering.
These injuries include a hamstring injury in the 2015 Conference Semifinals, a broken hand in the opening round of the 2016 playoffs, another hamstring injury in the Western Conference Finals in 2018, and numerous other injuries throughout the regular season. Referred to by many as the “Point God” – a play on words to his position: point guard – Paul again suffered injury with a shoulder contusion in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, just a few weeks ago. Seeing Paul regularly fumble with the ball, passing up open shots and uncharacteristically turning over possession to the opposing Lakers was a clear sign that all was not right. Though the Suns ultimately won the series with a hampered Paul, many commentators felt that Paul was the benefactor of an injured Laker’s team, and finally saw the injury streak end in a series victory.
At this point, Chris’ injury luck starts to sound like a modern re-enactment of the biblical story of Job; we see the Point God experience the reality of being merely a man as he was again struck and unable to play. COVID-19 reached a vaccinated Paul, and suddenly the star had to miss not one, but two basketball games in the Western Conference Finals to finish going through both the league and the NBA Players Association’s mandates of a mandatory minimum isolation from the team. Crisis and Chris Paul are all too often met in tandem, and no amount of paid sponsorship from the American corporate giant of State Farm Insurance has prevented or kept him on the court – until now.
Defying all odds, at the time of writing, the Phoenix Suns are up 2-2 in a best of seven series. The Point God is playing through undisclosed hand issues, the rehabbed shoulder contusion, and a near-rolled ankle after a recent three-point attempt landing went bad. When asked at the end of game by ESPN’s Malika Andrews about his wrapped and injured hand, Paul was quick to quip: “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” with a wry grin on his face as he continued to persevere.
At the age of 36, Chris Paul continues to grind and strive for greater things – to achieve victory with his teammates and fulfill the long-envisioned dream. At the age of 30, I have seen many parallels between his life and mine as I now enter post-secondary education for the first time. In 2005, just as Paul was starting his NBA career, I started the academic endeavours of high school with great hope and encouragement from countless family members, eighth grade teachers, and friends. The junior boys’ basketball team was tried out for, and despite battling a stomach flu, a position on the team at guard was achieved.
A few games into the season, a flu interrupted the start to a successful ninth grade year, not unlike how COVID has affected long haul patients. Throughout the next 15 years, nothing quite followed the path that I first envisioned. I found myself adapting to correspondence school before the technology of video calling connected us, and attending numerous hospital visits before masks were more than a fashion statement. Sudden deaths occurred in the family as mental health challenges came to the forefront, life-changing trauma was experienced where PTSD was found instead of healing, loved ones received disability diagnoses, and numerous other perilous stops along this strange road of life became milestones. I have an academic career that didn’t see a high school level of education until much later in life. In 2020, 15 years after beginning and being told it was either “crucially important” or “entirely irrelevant,” I completed both grade 12-level English courses online.
Perhaps it is fitting then that in the year of 2021, as we all look to leave the bubbles of our pandemic restricted lives, that Paul and I continue to persevere and aspire for more. While no athlete deserves a singular pedestal, may the collective perseverance of sports give us each the opportunity to strive towards our own championship and trophies in life. Whether it is a literal or metaphorical cold tub, a nagging, old injury or a current one, let us do the work of therapy. When seasons of our life seem to come to a close earlier than expected, let us start the work of off-season immediately and get back in whatever gym we can to stretch and strengthen ourselves. Let us surround ourselves with teammates and coaches that we are willing to experience the ecstasy of winning with, but also the agony of defeat that leads to further practice and training. When the pressures and stresses of balancing our time come our way, let us be reminded by sports and the value of rest. Let us renew ourselves for the next season, or semester, ahead.
The outcome of Paul’s Final’s Championship, and my pursuit of a university degree, are still unknown. What is clear, however, is that no matter what life throws our collective way, we each now share a common thread with every living person on this earth. When the voice of our own inner anxieties questions our ability to persevere and continue, let us be like Paul and continue to grin in the face of our inner dialogue, then knowingly and resiliently say: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”