Chris Paul was on a plane to New York on Sunday to promote his new book when he heard the news in a text from his 14-year-old son, Chris II: He had been traded.
Paul, a 12-time All-Star, is one of the most accomplished point guards in NBA history. He had recently completed his third season with the Phoenix Suns, a run that included a trip to the NBA Finals in 2021. There appeared to be greener pastures ahead after the Suns signed Kevin Durant in February.
But the Suns tentatively agreed to a trade with the Washington Wizards on Sunday for guard Bradley Beal, a three-time All-Star who turns 30 next week. Paul, 38, was included in the deal. At the moment it is unclear where Paul will play next season.
In an interview with The New York Times, Paul repeatedly said that Mat Ishbia, who recently bought the team, and Isiah Thomas, the Hall of Fame point guard who is close to Ishbia, “wanted to go in a different direction.” In February, Ishbia told reporters that Thomas did not have a role with the team. Representatives for the Suns and Thomas did not respond to a request for comment.
Paul spoke to The Times as part of a promotional tour for his book, “Sixty-One: Life Lessons From Papa, On and Off the Court.” The book, to be published on Tuesday, is a tribute to his grandfather Nathaniel Jones. Jones was murdered in 2002, one day after Paul signed a letter of intent to attend Wake Forest University.
Paul describes Jones as a defining figure in his life and one of his closest confidants. Jones operated what is believed to be the first Black-owned gas station in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina.
Paul wrote the book during the height of the pandemic with ESPN host Michael Wilbon, weaving in stories about his grandfather and his own journey — including his experiences as a black athlete in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
The interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, took place Monday at PR firm Rubenstein’s New York office. In it, Paul discussed the trade from Phoenix, his grandfather, and what his plans are after his NBA career is over.
You are on the plane last night. The team you helped get to within two games of a championship said it intended to trade you, and what’s your feeling?
It’s just – it’s hard. Seriously, it’s part of the business and what you realize is that nobody owes you anything. No matter how you are with them or what you do, you realize that in this business no one owes you anything as it should be.
But when it comes through and my son texts me, I realize you know, Mat and Isiah just wanted to go in a different direction.
So you found out because your son texted you on the plane? It wasn’t your agent who wrote to you, or Mat Ishbia. What goes through your head when you get the text?
I showed my phone to my wife. Because, I mean, I had talked to James Jones yesterday or something. [Jones is the Suns’ president of basketball operations and general manager.]
And did James Jones give any indication that this was on the table? How surprised were you by that text from your son?
I was surprised.
I can tell by your face that you’re trying not to talk too much trash right now.
No, because I mean what I say, it is what it is. But as I said, Mat and Isiah must have wanted to go differently.
In your ideal scenario, what happens?
I do not know. I really haven’t had enough time to process it yet. Preferably seriously, because these things that happen affect more than just me.
You recently said in another interview that you wanted to stay in Phoenix. What are your feelings about the organization at the moment?
Like I said, Mat and Isiah, they want to go in a different direction. But my time there has been amazing. You know what I mean? It’s been fantastic. Then get back to work.
You could have written a book about anything. You chose to write about your grandfather. Why was that?
It was a big point in my life. And being 38 years old now, I never would have imagined that I would have had the opportunity to do the things that I have done. I reflected and realized how many things are the way they are because of my relationship with my grandfather.
How do you reflect on his death differently now, at 38, than you did when you were a teenager?
When I was making this book, there were conversations that I hadn’t thought about or talked about in 20 years.
How painful was it for you and your family to relive the murder?
I actually got a few videos on my phone of some footage. [Paul was referring to recording the audiobook.] And when I did, there were a few times where I broke down and I couldn’t get through it.
What is a time in the last 20 years of your life that you wish you had your grandfather’s guidance?
Maybe when I was in college, the Julius Hodge situation. I have suspended in a match. [In 2005, Paul appeared to deliberately throw a punch below the waist of North Carolina State’s Julius Hodge during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.]
What do you think he would have said?
I do not know. I don’t think he would necessarily have been crazy. Well, it’s crazy because that whole situation happened because it was kids yelling, “I killed your grandfather.” Then if he had been here, they wouldn’t have been able to tell.
One of the interesting stories I read in the book was after the death of George Floyd, you talk about being stopped in Los Angeles. Can you describe the uneasiness you felt?
I was on the 405, it was under construction, so it was crazy. When I pulled over, I pulled over to the left. I think I was supposed to pull over to the right, but I think it was the nervousness and anxiety. And then I pulled it over. I don’t care what anyone says – especially at the height of everything that was going on, at the time I was just a little nervous.
You are a wealthy, famous, successful athlete and you are pulled over by the police and you are worried. What does that tell you about our country right now?
That tells you a lot.
When I’m playing in a game and I’m in an arena, all those fans are in there screaming. As soon as I leave the game, I don’t leave the game in my uniform. I could leave the game in a hoodie with a hat on. So I’m ordinary. I’m just like everyone else. That is also another thing. All people don’t know who athletes are and all that. I don’t think for a minute that I should get some kind of passport because I’m an athlete.
How much have you thought about how many years you have left in the NBA?
I ask a lot of questions to friends, to people who have retired, people who are in other companies who work. And one of the biggest things I’ve heard just years ago is that as soon as you start thinking about when it’s over, it’s over.
And you don’t feel that.
What does Chris Paul look like after his career?
I would love to be governor one day.
A team owner.
Exactly. Because I just know all the nuances of the league from all the years as federation chairman. And I have relationships where I’ve been able to learn from these guys.