So, I'm going to preface this by saying that this piece is going to be bit of a return for me. You see, when I first started writing on SBNation, it was in FanPosts on Blogger So Dear, SBN's Wake Forest blog, where I am now a contributing writer of a couple years. These days, I try to write fairly objectively, or at the very least I try to contain my emotions a bit when I'm in "contributor mode". My early pieces in particular were (politely) criticized by some for being prone to histrionics, and not particularly well-versed in factual takes and strong analysis. Of course, the fine folks here at Clips Nation know that I'm highly emotional individual here as well, but honestly, it's been a while since I've written anything that could theoretically go into a writing portfolio that was pure, undiluted SF. But thanks to that game last night, I've been inspired to do so after a long period of not being inspired whatsoever, be it here or on BSD. I'm going to warn anyone reading this right now: if you're the type to dislike sportswriting that isn't supported by statistics or detailed analysis of X's and O's, you might want to look elsewhere on this one. Don't get me wrong, that's fine, and much of my work on BSD is more in that vein, and that preference is fine, it's just that this piece isn't going to be your cup of tea.
After his sophomore year in 2005, Chris Paul allegedly told his coach, the late great Skip Prosser, that he would be returning to Wake Forest for his junior year. There were talks going around that Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. planned to come to Wake to join him, which would have easily turned Wake Forest into a national championship contender for the first time since the halcyon days of the legendary Tim Duncan. Something changed, however, and Chris informed Skip (to the shock of all in the community) that he would be entering the NBA Draft. Conley and Oden went together to Ohio State for one year, where they made it to the national championship game. Reactions around the Wake Forest community varied, from happiness that Chris was succeeding in the NBA, to resigned sadness that he was gone, to genuine vitriol and anger that branded Chris as a traitor, a guy who had screwed Wake Forest and torpedoed the program. By all accounts it did come as a surprise to Chris's coaches, because they hadn't done any additional recruiting of point guards to an already solid team, lending credence to the theory that Chris's declaration to the draft came as a shock to pretty much everyone. The anger was palpable enough that the year after he left (my freshman year at Wake), Chris came back to Wake for a big game and tried to get the crowd pumped up and was met with a decidedly mixed reaction. Yes, some people at Wake Forest University booed Chris Paul.
My father is a fellow Wake Forest alumnus who has always resented Chris Paul even as much of the rest of the community has moved on. My dad is just an old-school guy, and believed that if Chris had been up front about leaving, he wouldn't have resented it at all. But Chris (allegedly) wasn't, so the anger remained. But after the Clippers' amazing comeback in Game 4, my dad, who doesn't like the NBA, came into my room and said with a smile, "You know, I think I finally get it. I understand. I forgive Chris Paul." Chris has been nothing but gracious and giving to Wake Forest University, donating money, time, and even taking strides to finally get his degree. The community has all but completely forgiven him, perhaps best exemplified by his jersey being retired at Wake Forest and put in the rafters of the Joel next to the banner of his late great coach, who has posthumously become a bit of a folk hero in Winston-Salem.
You may ask what this has to do with Game 6. Frankly, everything. Much was made of the fact that CP3 looked more defeated in his post-game presser than he ever had. Paul himself said that it was "probably the toughest thing he's ever been through, basketball-wise." I don't know Chris Paul personally. I know people who do, and I know people who played with Chris, and even some who I'd wager know him quite well, since the Wake Forest family is a small, tight-knit one. But I do feel I know Chris as a basketball player and a competitor. I'd argue Chris might very well be the most competitive player in the entire league, sometimes to his detriment. Notice I didn't necessarily say biggest, or strongest, or fastest, or best, or even most skilled, though he's probably high on the list in most of those categories sans the first.. I said the most competitive.
I will freely admit I'm guilty of saying last night that I didn't think the Clippers would win Game 6 in LA. I have since changed my opinion. Not only did the Clippers nearly win the last game through a lot of adversity. Not only has this series been extremely tight in every game except for the first (which was Clipper domination in OKC). Even putting all that aside, Chris Paul had perhaps the worst night of his competitive life. If I know Chris Paul whatsoever, that's sticking in his craw. While he was perhaps more despondent last night than we've ever seen him, I doubt his spirit will be so easily broken. This is the same guy who was offered a walk-on spot at the University of North Carolina for a year while they waited for a scholarship to open up, and rather than accept that, he decided to go to Wake Forest instead and torch UNC for two years.
When CP3 left, I honestly wondered if he'd ever be forgiven. The anger was so strong, it was difficult to imagine. Many wondered if the program would ever recover, and while that's still a question, it's definitely seen rock bottom, and there's reason to hope that the rise from the ashes will occur sooner than later. At this point, for this series anyway, the Clippers have also seen rock bottom. I don't think Game 6 will be just a game for Chris Paul and his teammates, I think it will be a statement. A statement that CP3 and The Clippers are above any uncharacteristic mistake or controversy. I won't be so bold as to predict a series win for the Clips, but it's not over, and I think Chris Paul will make it a mission to redeem himself in Game 6.
Chris Paul can't do it alone, nor do I think the Clippers can win without Chris Paul. I can say this much for sure, though. Chris Paul almost certainly hasn't given up, so why should I?