Monday, May 19, 2008

Paul makes NBA games worth watching

When J.J. Redick was pursuing the ACC career scoring record at Duke, I could always count on talk radio hosts asking me what kind of NBA player he would be.

My answer was always the same. It came from the playbook of Billy Packer, who sometimes derides other media members’ constant speculation about the NBA when they are covering college basketball.

“Who cares?” I’d ask the radio hosts.

I didn’t plan to watch Redick in the NBA, because I hadn’t been interested in pro basketball since the Bulls vs. Knicks, Jordan vs. Ewing era ended. After college basketball, as far as I was concerned, a player’s career was finished.

Last season I began substituting “Tyler Hansbrough” for “J.J. Redick” in those radio interviews. Like Redick, Hansbrough might never be a great pro but his magnificent college career has been a treat.

I agree with Packer’s premise that we ought to enjoy players while they’re in college for their contributions to college basketball. But my interest in the NBA also has been rekindled.

Last week, I was asking ACC associate commissioner and former Charlotte Bobcats executive Karl Hicks whether he thought the Utah Jazz had a chance against the Los Angeles Lakers.
He said he thought the Lakers would win the Western Conference semis (they did), but he enjoyed watching the Jazz play. I told them I liked the Jazz, but I prefer watching the New Orleans Hornets to anybody.


Chris Paul.

Hicks agreed that Paul is special. I spent enough time around Paul when he was at Wake Forest to learn that he is a ferocious competitor and a class act at the same time. I was more impressed when he showed up at the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions last year in Chapel Hill to watch the CP3 All-Stars AAU team he sponsors.

Paul could easily send a check and let other people run the team. But the soon-to-be All-Star also devoted his time to helping young players improve their games and character.

At the late Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser’s funeral last summer, I was nearly moved to tears by Paul’s loving eulogy. I couldn’t help thinking how proud Prosser would have been to see the man Paul had become.

If the Hornets defeat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 tonight, Paul won’t be coming to Gibbons’ tournament this year. He will be busy trying to get the Hornets past Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

Even if you’ve been disillusioned with the NBA in recent years, that will be worth watching. I’ve never met the NBA’s MVP (Bryant), but I know the runner-up (Paul) has a social conscience that complements his game.

– Ken Tysiac