What Chris Paul learned in the NBA bubble

Daniel Roberts
·6 min read

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s NBA bubble postseason run ended in August with a loss to the Houston Rockets, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story of point guard Chris Paul’s 2020 NBA season.

As president of the NBA Players Association, Paul was also extremely busy off the court in the leadership position he’s held since 2013.

“I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about our league,” Paul said in an interview at Yahoo Finance’s virtual All Markets Summit on Monday. “I think the biggest thing that we learned is how strong we can be when we come together, right? It’s always been bigger than the game, but these times that we’re all enduring and going through, we’ve got to go through it together. We’re learning, we’re becoming more educated, and it doesn’t stop. The bubble was thankfully a success, but now... we’ve got to do more. And this voting cycle, and everything that's gone on as far as the election, has been a way for us to not only educate ourselves, but educate our audience.”

‘Sports have always been political’

Paul used his time in the bubble to promote voting and also bring attention to HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). Paul is a co-chair of the nonpartisan nonprofit When We All Vote, launched in 2018 to encourage voter registration. Earlier this month, he did a town hall event in his home state of North Carolina with Joe Biden, at which they FaceTimed Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry.

Amid all of this activity, live sports TV ratings have been down across the board this fall compared to last year, including a 51% viewership decline for the NBA Finals. Some pundits, including President Trump, insist a cause of the decline is the recent political outspokenness of the athletes.

“I think sports have always been political,” Paul says when asked about doing the Biden event. “Athletes have just chosen to do so when they felt comfortable. I think for me and Steph—we talk about it at times—being parents, right, it’s more than just about me. I feel responsible for the things that my kids will see, and what they'll endure. So that was a choice of mine. And everyone may not agree with it, but that is okay, that is perfectly fine.”

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 20:  Chris Paul #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder warms up before playing the Houston Rockets in game two in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at  AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 20, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by  Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Chris Paul #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder warms up before playing the Houston Rockets in game two in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 20, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)

‘I think it’s just a right and wrong thing’

After the national protests over the death of George Floyd, all of the major sports leagues embraced the Black Lives Matter movement in some form or another, but arguably none more than the WNBA and NBA.

The WNBA dedicated its season to Breonna Taylor. (This month, the New York Times called the WNBA “the most socially progressive pro league.”) The NBA allowed players to wear phrases on the backs of their jerseys like “Say their names,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Justice now.”

Conservative critics of the NBA have railed that the league “went woke” with its overt embrace of the social justice movement.

Paul has a response to those critics.

“I think it's just a right and wrong thing,” he says. “You can call it political or not political. I think all of us looked at it as being humans, right, just being good people. And for us, we wanted to speak on the things that we face day in and day out... When the game is over, we do not walk out of the arena in our uniforms, right? We don't. We get dressed. We get in the car. I go home as a Black man, right, with my family... The things that we speak on, the things that we talk about, are things that are daily reminders that, yes, playing basketball, football, soccer, whatever, it is our job—but it’s not who we are.”

Watch the All Markets Summit
Watch the All Markets Summit

‘Everyone sort of follows our lead’

In August, the NBA triggered two days of protests across the sports world after the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz refused to play their playoff game as a form of protest. At that time, the NBA and NBPA formed a new social justice coalition.

That was when athletes from other leagues came calling—another twist that surprised Paul and stands out to him from his time in the bubble.

Because of the steps the NBPA was taking on social justice reform, Paul says, “I had an opportunity to talk to a lot of the Black players that play Major League Soccer. I would’ve never had that opportunity. I had baseball players that reached out, football players that reached out... We did a call with the NBA and WNBA players with Michelle Obama. That is unheard of. The amount of calls that I was getting from the other leagues, I'm usually not surprised by too much, but I was really surprised. And as I was telling our players, I was like, look, man, we have an unbelievable job, a role here to play, because everyone sort of follows our lead. And so it's really a special time to be connected with all the other leagues like we are. As tough as things were as far as us being away from our families, I absolutely believe that the things that took place during this pandemic will definitely move sports forward.”

‘I would love to be a governor of an NBA franchise’

Chris Paul has played 15 seasons in the NBA. He’s an investor in PlayersTV, the athlete-owned media network; his own production company, Ohh Dipp!!! Productions, signed a deal last year with Big Fish Entertainment, an MGM company. He continues his own charitable efforts and philanthropy. Add to all of that his ongoing role as president of the NBPA.

It amounts to a resumé that could take Paul in many different directions when he stops playing basketball. So what’s his big-picture career dream after the NBA?

“I would love to be eventually a governor of an NBA franchise,” Paul answers. “Obviously, I love the game. I love the game, and I want to be a part of it for a very long time.”

By “governor,” Paul means team owner. The NBA, over the last couple years, has moved away from using the term “owner” and embraced “governor” instead. With Paul’s record of NBPA leadership, that kind of second act after retirement would make a lot of sense.

Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers sports business. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

New York Liberty CEO: 'The world wasn't quite ready' for the WNBA in the past

Why live sports TV ratings are down for all the big leagues

What Michael Jordan and Bubba Wallace could do for NASCAR

NASCAR's only black driver Bubba Wallace changed the sport forever in 2 days

The biggest storyline of the 2020 NFL season isn’t the pandemic—it’s gambling

NFL's first Black team president says NFL handling of Kaepernick situation was 'never going to go great'

Misty Copeland: George Floyd protests are ‘the first time I feel like I’m truly being heard’