As Chris Paul Jr. heads into his fourth season with the Knicks, it's worth revisiting his path to the NBA and how he and his dad changed the road for all that came after.
They call him CP3 now. Chris Paul Jr. was an All-Star in his third season despite missing out on the college grooming that his father and so many of their predecessors had. But that’s because Chris Paul Sr. helped pave the way for the career his son would have. Now, the young Knicks star is reaping the benefit.
The younger Paul skipped past college on his way to finally giving the Knicks the star point guard they’d been looking for, drawn to New York City in no small part because of the legacy his dad left after playing there in the waning years of his career. Paul Jr. has led the Knicks to the playoffs in his first three seasons and has people in the city truly excited about basketball again; the sense of hope is pervasive.
After being born in New Orleans while dad was playing for the Hornets, Paul Jr. made the move to New York near the end of 2020 when his dad was traded there. Paul Jr. got to grow up in the hoops mecca that is New York City, at last a prodigal son for the town that was bereft of young stars about as long as the Knicks stunk up the NBA. As Paul Jr. made his way through AAU and middle school ball, the NBA and NCAA finally put rubber to the road negotiating an end to the league’s age limit and the one-and-done era of college basketball. At the same time, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, head of the newly formed U.S. Senate Committee on Professional and Amateur Athletics, pushed federal legislation that allowed college athletes to make money off their likeness and, later, to be paid by their university directly. A desperate NCAA finally capitulated, sensing a windfall in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That presented a tough call for Paul Jr., who was heavily recruited by Syracuse, St. John’s and Rutgers as he looked to stay close to home. Already, New York has separated itself from the pack in terms of opportunities available to college athletes. Many previously dormant schools have gotten second life thanks to Booker’s bills and the evaporation of amateurism among college athletes. Paul Jr. had to choose whether to try the new more lucrative college route or jump straight to the pros in a year when the Knicks possessed a top-five draft pick. In the end, it was the chance to pick up where his dad left off in New York and finally improve the perception of the franchise that pushed Paul Jr. to go pro.
Years ago, Paul Sr. contributed very little to the Knicks as he waited out the end of the massive contract Houston gave him and looked toward retirement. But the elder Paul’s proximity to the league office and the spotlight of Manhattan helped him leave a lasting impact on the league and society by the time he retired in 2023. In the last years of Paul’s career, he remained president of the executive committee of the players’ association, finding an executive director to replace Michele Roberts following the miracle Bubble playoffs of 2020 and dictating the course of the next era of pro basketball.
Paul Sr. worked closely with Commissioner Adam Silver in the aftermath of the pandemic to find a safe way to host fans during the 2021 season and avoid a rollercoaster salary cap bounce for the league during the economic recession. Then, Paul negotiated to get the league back on track for the Christmas Day-Independence Day calendar they now use. Paul as his final act for the union put together a new Collective Bargaining Agreement after the players opted out in 2023.
One of the main issues at stake in those negotiations: The end of the age limit. Paul Sr. had some skin in the game by then, with a son beginning high school and already looking toward a pro career. But more than simply getting rid of the mandate for players to be 19 when they were drafted, Paul Sr. and Silver had to figure out what to do about the G League and the NCAA while giving young players a more equitable chance at a career right away.
After an inaugural season led by Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd and coached by Bryan Shaw, the G League Select Team, or Ignite as it’s commonly known now, became a strong option for players not quite ready to go to the NBA yet but who want to bypass the NCAA. Ignite players get the spotlight of their annual tour against top college programs, other G League squads and NBA preseason games while also getting adequate time to train solo and earn money through sponsorships. Green was selected in the top 10 in 2021 and set the program off well.
However, with the age limit eliminated, Ignite became less appealing to young players. As part of the 2023 CBA, Paul Sr. negotiated that the program would open up to all 17-year-olds if their high school studies were finished, giving prep players an even earlier shot at turning heads in NBA front offices. That left an unwieldy pre-draft process in the league (especially because ever since the pandemic, the NBA Draft has taken place many months after the end of the college season) where teams chose from high-profile G Leaguers, prep school grads, and college kids all in one pool. Sometimes, like when the Knicks picked Paul Jr. fourth overall in 2028, the decision is natural, but there have been many flops.
As the Knicks get ready for the playoffs and Paul Jr. tells reporters he believes they have a real shot to end the Knicks’ championship drought after 41 years, he and his father remain active in politics. Paul Sr. is a leader in Democratic politics these days, having established himself as a pre-eminent voice for HBCUs, social justice policy and voting rights starting in 2020 in the Bubble and gaining influence since then by investing heavily in his Social Justice Fund with the Banana Boat guys. These days, politicians actively seek out the endorsements of star athletes, even those as young as Paul Jr. It’s part of why athletes are increasingly wary of associating with the NCAA, which still features regressive rules about athletes speaking out and, as with their frustrating continued use of the phrase “student-athlete,” the association still is quite stringent on those who play college sports.
The job of an NBA player is a lot bigger for the new CP3 than it was when Paul Sr. was drafted. They earned it. Some in the country still yearn for the days when the NCAA Tournament was full of stars or try to poke at NBA ratings as evidence that activism and outspokenness are a problem for the league, but stars like Paul Jr. remain among the most famous athletes in the nation -- and the most influential socially. LeBron James, whom Paul Jr. lovingly calls “uncle,” may have been the first to demonstrate the true power of an NBA superstar in society, but after casting aside the useless shackles of the NCAA, basketball stars are increasingly upping the ante for the impact they can have on their communities.
The young CP3 is unique among star players by way of his Hall of Fame father and New York bona fides, but he is just like the rest of his peers in the empowerment he feels from the generation before theirs to shed the outrageous order to “shut up and dribble” and, from a young age, take control of their destiny on and off the court.