On Sunday, I had the opportunity to have a brief audience with Los Angeles Clippers and Team USA point guard Chris Paul. Though very intense on the court, the former Wake Forest star was much different in person. Rather than show up in a loud outfit, he was wearing a Team USA long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans and was very laid-back.
I only had a few minutes with him, so I knew I had to make the most of them. Thus, I jumped right in, introduced myself and asked him how he felt about appearing in his second Summer Olympics and what he thought of this year's team compared to the one that won gold in Beijing in 2008.
"Obviously, we don't have as much size," Paul said, as Team USA only has one true and tested center this year in Tyson Chandler of the New York Knicks, "But if our team today was playing against our '08 team, I know one thing: I would kick my butt!"
That said, Paul went on to talk about how his teammates seemed better prepared for the Olympics this time around, particularly since two of the most talented players on Team USA's roster appear to have improved greatly along with the rest of the squad.
"That's what makes this team so special," Paul said. "It's hard to believe, but LeBron James is a much better player now than he was in '08. Kobe Bryant is a much better player now than he was in '08. That team obviously had more size, but I think this team now is a bit deeper and more versatile."
Size definitely could matter at this year's Olympic Games, as the United States has no real dominant force in the middle to back up Chandler. Paul's teammate Blake Griffin, who stands at 6'10", was on the original roster, but he will now miss the games with a torn meniscus. He was replaced by rookie Anthony Davis, who is also 6'10" but has yet to appear in an NBA game.
Naturally, I felt compelled to ask Paul about how he felt about his teammate being replaced by someone with no professional experience. Before I could even finish the question, he was quick to jump to Davis' defense.
"Anthony jumped right in," he said. "Obviously, we'd love to have Blake, especially me personally, but injuries do happen and Anthony's been great. His first game the other night against the Dominican Republic was outstanding and he's ready for whatever Coach (Krzyzewski) calls him for."
I was then given the signal to wrap things up, but I wasn’t done yet. I had yet to tackle the elephant in the room: Paul’s impending free agency. He has one year left on his current contract and has not given any indication as to whether or not he will remain with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Thus, I went ahead and asked how he felt about the moves the team had made in free agency thus far and his mentality going into next season. His eyes lit up and once again, he started answering before I could even finish the question.
“I can’t wait for next season. Not only did we bring in Chauncey (Billups) and Jamal (Crawford), but a lot of people tend to forget that we brought back Lamar Odom, who was a big pickup for us. We should have a really big training camp and hopefully, we can make a lot of noise this season.”
That said, while some athletes surely get caught up in the glory of representing their country at the Olympic Games, Chris Paul is a rare breed. As honored as he is to be a part of the festivities, his primary focus is on his team.
Given how he reacted when I brought up next season, his Los Angeles Clippers could very well be a team to watch in the upcoming campaign. If he can get another gold medal on his resume and then a championship ring, he will definitely seal his status as a Hall of Fame player, a great honor on top of being a Hall of Fame individual.