It's appropriate that a guy who so divides his audience has two first names.
The question, considering Chris Paul is so gosh-darn good, is why fans either love the guy to pieces or hate him to hell.
The Los Angeles Clippers point guard has been among the top five in assists per game in every season he's played except his rookie year (when he was seventh). That includes two years of leading the league in dishes.
Paul shoots well from long-range. He shoots even better from short- and mid-range, making him a threat from anywhere on the court. Watching him run an offense is like watching a grandmaster play chess, because CP3 is always thinking two moves ahead.
He's third in the league in player efficiency, second by decimal points in assist-to-turnover ratio and a four-time All-Defensive first- or second-teamer.
Beyond all of the above, he is by all accounts a tireless worker, a likeable man, an agreeable interview subject and a devoted father.
Why, then, do so many NBA fans despise the guy?
The problem comes from Paul's insanely competitive nature. His desire to win causes him—nay, compels him—to bend and even break the rules to give himself an additional advantage. That kind of ethic, or lack thereof, can be much more difficult to accept, let alone root for.
As Al Pacino said in And Justice For All: to CP3, winning is everything. In other words, he'll do whatever it takes for a W—even when what it takes is a lack of principles.
There's no stat to measure flopping. If there were, Paul would lead the league by a country mile. Here's a compilation of some of his greatest fake-hits.
If you're a fan of Paul—as I very much am—you smile and shake your head, amazed at the brash and overt nature of his flops. I say his on-court acting might even have been instrumental in helping Paul land his droll State Farm twin-brothers ad campaign.
If you're a hater, such behavior is tantamount to cheating. And in fact, that's inarguable. Faking a foul has only recently been legislated against by the league, but it's always been a cheap and pathetic play.
Winners should win based on their superior play. Only losers need the advantage of faking fouls. Right?
One would think.
Some of the league's best players are also its best actors. The list of shameless wolf-crying includes Manu Ginobili, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade and the league's two best players, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
I guess the moral is, even if you can beat 'em, cheat 'em.
You'll get no argument from me that flopping is bad sportsmanship, plain and simple. Unfortunately, it remains a part of the game, for the simple fact that it's often difficult to prove, and results in points that might now otherwise be gotten. That's even some of the game's brightest stars take dives with the best of them.
Just because top-tier players do it doesn't make flopping right. But right or wrong, a well-executed flop can be a competitive advantage.
That's good enough for Chris Paul.
Conversely, when it comes to hitting other guys, Paul ain't faking nothing.
On offense, he thinks nothing of using his forearm to clear out space for his shot, or tying up defenders with arm hooks. On defense, it's even worse: Paul will throw punches and knees like he's Nick the bartender giving out wings in It's A Wonderful Life.
Even family jewels are frequent targets of Chris Paul sideswipes.
To me, what's fascinating is how the guy goes about his assaults. If fouls were killings, his are never involuntary manslaughter; they're premeditated, deliberate and willful, and so surreptitious that even if Columbo and Monk teamed up, Paul would frequently get away with murder.
I readily admit this is nothing to admire. In fact, Paul's penchant for dirty play my least favorite part of his game.
And yet...I have to admit that when one play pulls something over on another, it can be extremely entertaining. I never got tired of that parlor trick Rasheed Wallace used to work to perfection, where he'd lure the guy assigned to him into leaning into Wallace, more and more with each possession...then, abruptly, he'll pull away, making his opponent fall down. He'd finish by laughing at his fallen foe.
Paul is a dirty player, no ifs, ands or buts about it. But I guess I get past it because he's so creatively dirty.
Here's another reason to hate on Paul. We love great athletes, but we tend to embrace them more when they're humble.
CP3 is not humble.
You'll frequently see him between plays walking with his shoulders back and chest out like he's cock of the walk, looking for all the world as if he believes he's better than everyone else.
Further, it seems every game, Paul complains to a referee about some perceived injustice, as if he is continually the wronged party in a fraud lawsuit.
If you like him, you sweep this under the rug by saying a) Paul is usually better than anyone else and b) complaining to the referees is just another way this compulsively win-obsessed guy tilts every variable he can in his favor.
Is his attitude likeable prima facie? No.
It comes to whether or not you like the guy in the first place. Because if you do, these things are all just what makes Chris Paul Chris Paul.
If you don't like Paul because of all of the above, I get it. I really do.
Heck, as a fan, I sincerely wish he wouldn't do some of the unsportsmanlike things he does to gain his edges. He doesn't need them. His talent is dazzling enough.
I overlook them, though, for the same reason I cited above: I just flat-out like the guy.
He reminds me of the brilliant point guard I grew up watching, Isiah Thomas. Zeke was as dirty a player, if you watched closely, as ever laced up at the point. And from all I've heard and read, I believe his motivations were exactly the same as Paul's: winning at all costs.
But when Thomas turned on his million-megawatt smile, it was like I was The Manchurian Candidate staring at the queen of diamonds. He had me at toothy grin.
Isiah's charisma was too incandescent not to love. I see Paul the same way.
CP3 also reminds me of a dear, late friend of mine named Craig Pollack. One of my best buds from elementary school through high school, Craig was constantly either lying his heinie off, knocking down mailboxes, stealing lunches off people's trays or smuggling flasks into football games—and smiling that sly smile of his all the while.
But damned if he didn't make life interesting.
Craig's deviousness was consummated with such panache, such pizzazz, such gusto, that I couldn't help but smile. That's Paul to me. He suffers from a morbid and overpowering thirst for winning, which leads to indefensibly unscrupulous play, coupled with a curious lack of shame or conscience.
But holy crap on a cracker, is he fun to watch.