Two years ago, one of the greatest point guards of all time was considered an albatross.
What didn’t help matters was that the dynamic between Houston Rockets teammates James Harden and Chris Paul wasn’t exactly affable, and the fit was even worse. So to rid himself of this contentious situation, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta banished Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for two first-round picks, two first-round pick swaps, and some guy named Russell Westbrook—who would barely last a season in H-Town himself.
“That trade was made because Tilman Fertitta wanted it made,” ESPN’s Tim MacMahon said on The Lowe Post in 2020. “He thought Chris Paul’s contract was the worst that he’d ever seen in business or sports—and because James Harden wanted it made.”
With three years and $124 million remaining on Paul’s contract, Fertitta’s line of thinking wasn’t exactly unpopular, either; especially considering Paul’s age at the time (33) and the litany of injuries that began to limit his effectiveness and availability on the court. But instead of refusing to be traded to a team that was projected to be a bottom dweller, the God Point locked in and enjoyed a career resurgence that propelled the Thunder to not only a fourth seed in the 2020 NBA Playoffs, but a seven-game slugfest against his former squad, the Rockets, in the first round.
Paul’s humiliating exodus from Houston also birthed a new ritual: Before each game, he would write “can’t give up now” on his sneakers as a homage to the Mary Mary song of the same name. It’s also served as a reminder that despite everything he’s accomplished on the court throughout his career, his job’s not done.
And now, two years removed from being renounced in a salary cap dump, the Wake Forest product is on the brink of becoming an NBA champion for the first time ever. And if y’all thought he was about to give up back when he was left for dead in Oklahoma City, he sure as hell isn’t about to give up now.
“I just kept thinking, if we do what we’re supposed to do, I get the last laugh,” Paul said after putting the Los Angeles Clippers to bed in the Western Conference Finals with an uncharacteristic 41-point outburst. “So you stay the course long enough, you break ‘em, and that’s what we did.”
As the most accomplished player to have never reached the NBA Finals—name another player who’s played in as many playoff games, earned as many All-NBA and All-Star nods, and scored as many points in the postseason—the fact that he’s finally reached the promised land in Phoenix couldn’t be more fitting. The Suns have had more than their fair share of bad luck and improbable odds for decades.
There was the coin flip in 1969 that cost them the chance to draft lanky UCLA center Lew Alcindor (he would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar); there was “the Greatest Game Ever,” a triple-overtime epic in which the Suns fell short during the 1976 NBA Finals; there was Danny Manning’s freak ACL injury during the 1994-95 season that arguably cost Phoenix a championship; a decade-long postseason drought; Amare Stoudemire’s microfracture surgery; Steve Nash’s blood nose; the list goes on and on.
But now, having finally found a savior in CP3, both the 16-year veteran and the Valley of the Sun are in line for their much-deserved fairytale ending.
They just can’t give up now.