Bob Cousy, John Stockton and Jason Kidd all played past their 40th birthdays, and Steve Nash is set to join the 40-and-over club in February. Regarded as the league's top point guard, Chris Paul has the technical skills to command a game into old age just like those lifer legends, but that doesn't necessarily mean we should expect to see the 28-year-old floor general still kicking around the NBA in 2025.
In an "HBO Real Sports" interview with Mary Carillo, the Clippers' six-time All-Star point guard said that he envisions himself stepping away from basketball before Father Time demands it.
"I love to play basketball more than anybody," Paul said. "I'm serious, nobody loves to play basketball more than I do. But I could honestly see myself maybe stopping a little early or premature just because I hate to miss anything with my kids. I would hate for my kids to recall those special moments in their life, and I wasn't there."
The interview -- which is set to air Tuesday night and is a collaboration with Sports Illustrated -- makes a convincing case that Paul is wired a bit differently than his peers and predecessors. The story traces four generations of Paul's family: Paul; his grandfather, who was murdered; his father, who coached him throughout when he was a child; and his young son, who has joined him at the podium for post-game interviews. Paul's wife, Jada, refers to her husband as a "nerd" and a "nervous person" who doesn't like crowded clubs. A preview clip of the interview can be viewed below or at this link.
So what exactly does "stopping a little early" mean here? Well, Paul just signed a five-year, $107 million contract extension in July, a deal that will keep him with the Clippers through at least the 2016-17 season with a player option on the 2017-18 season. Barring some unforeseen complications with his surgically-repaired knee, it would be shocking if Paul didn't reach the end of that deal, at which point he would still be just 33 years old.
Still, it's obvious where Paul is coming from with his thinking, and the intensity of the back story demands that you take his statement seriously. In the interview, Paul speaks at length about his slain grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, who he refers to as his "best friend." Paul fondly recalled Jones' excitement that accompanied his commitment to attend Wake Forest.
"As soon as I signed the actual paper, I can picture my grand dad, by this time he had false teeth," Paul remembered. "I can picture him saying 'Yeah' and the teeth moving a little bit in his mouth."
That was Paul's last memory of his grandfather, as Jones was robbed and beaten to death in his driveway by five young men the very next day.
"I usually don't get emotional about things," Paul said, fighting back tears. "It was so long ago but sometimes I do miss him. ... It's crazy how some stuff can just be burned into your mind forever. I remember pulling up to the house, seeing all the people, the drape pulled over my grandfather in the carport."
Paul famously honored his grandfather's memory by scoring 61 points during a high school game that same week: 61 points for his 61-year-old grandfather. Paul had an opportunity to score 62 on an and-one play, but he intentionally missed the free throw and walked off the court, where his parents were waiting to hug him. That performance smashed his previous high school high of 39 points.
"I told my coach, regardless of how many points we get up tonight, just let me play," Paul told Carillo. "Some of those shots were not supposed to go in and I still think about it to this day. It's like my grand dad was there, tipping in some of those shots. He was definitely there that night. ... I had 59 [points], I remember, I sort of did an in-and-out move, threw up a floater and I got hit and I saw it go in. I remember just laying there on the floor, just gasping."
He continued: "Still to this day that's the greatest achievement I've ever had. I tell people all the time, if they would say, 'What's the one thing you could grab if your house caught on fire?' It would be that basketball. It would be that basketball, that I have framed from that game."
One wonders what difference winning an NBA championship would make in Paul's career planning. Already, he's won two gold medals, he's been named to the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team, he's won the Rookie of the Year and the All-Star Game MVP, and he's banked $77 million in career earnings before his new deal even kicks in. His playoff resume -- which includes zero trips to the conference finals -- has been the missing piece of the puzzle. Walking away from the game, for a player of Paul's caliber, has always been a case of "easier said than done." But what happens if he succeeds in delivering a title to the Clippers over the next three or four years? Would the gravitational pull from his family start to overtake his ultra-competitive nature?