Chris Paul is my hero. Not because he fills up stat sheets and box scores on a daily basis, not because he represented my country and favorite team with dignity in the 2008 Olympics, and no, not because of his boyish good looks.
Chris Paul is my hero because he made me love basketball.
I grew up playing soccer and watching football religiously. Soccer is the beautiful game, a game of graceful fluidity and constant movement, where every goal scored is crucial to the outcome of the game.
Football is sensational, with its big hits, its larger-than-life players, its skimpy cheerleaders and Super Bowl halftime shows.
Compared to soccer and football, basketball, to me, was always kind of... boring.
Back and forth, back and forth, the players ran up and down the court, from one side to the other, like pinballs bouncing between the baskets. Every trip down the court, they took a shot: sometimes they made it, sometimes they didn't. Swish. Clank. Clank. Swish. The team with more points wins.
To me, basketball was a game of tedious repetition, without much depth or variation. None of the beautiful fluidity of soccer, none of the bone-crushing excitement of football.
But then came along Chris Paul, and he changed the way I saw basketball.
He dissected the game of basketball for me, he allowed me to see the game within the game: the mind games, the matchups of each possession, the strategies of the half-court offense, the split-second decisions necessary to successfully run a fast break.
Watching Chris Paul and his cerebral style of play slowed the game down for me.
Basketball's rapid, neurotic movements up and down the court that I had perceived growing up were transformed into mere parts of a whole: I began to understand each possession as a battle, crucial to the outcome of the war.
To appreciate Chris Paul's game, it isn't enough just to watch highlights. His highlights rarely dazzle you in the same way that Kobe, Wade and Lebron's do. Chris Paul isn't a showman; he is an architect.
Rather than in highlights, his accomplishments are better grasped within the context of the game: how he affects the spacing on the floor, how he makes the players around him so much better, how he nearly always makes the right choice deciding whether to penetrate the hole, shoot it himself, or dump it off to one of his teammates.
But don't get me wrong: like Kobe, Wade and Lebron, CP3 is a freakish athletic talent.
He has a ridiculous handle on the ball, and he has a knack for getting to the basket and finishing, no matter how many defenders are thrust into his path. And yet, as much as Paul is able to accomplish with his physical gifts, the most important aspect of his game is mental.
His patience and intelligence, his instinctive understanding of when to attack and when to sit back, are what separate him from the rest.
Of course, like the NBA's other superstars, Chris Paul is capable of generating a highlight reel. But his highlights need to be observed for their subtle genius, rather than their glass-shattering force. So next time you watch Chris Paul on TV, run it in slo-mo.
Forget about your popcorn and your beer. Keep your eyes glued. Because chances are, a second ago he just made a brilliant move, and you just missed it.
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