Chris Paul Made Social Justice Education A Player Development Priority in OKC Thunder Camp

As we inch closer to the resumption of play, NBA players in Orlando aren’t letting their focus drift from their priority: social justice.

Following the deaths of civil rights activists John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, Thunder guard Chris Paul couldn’t talk about anything other than educating the younger players about the importance of the pair of Black leaders.

“We’ve lost two of the most powerful activists we’ve ever had,” Paul said. “The impact that they had on America is unbelievable. For me as a Black man, it’s more important for me to do my job as a parent. A lot of times people look at athletes as heroes for what we can do as far as dunking a basketball and throwing a touchdown (pass).”

“But the things they did as human beings … John Lewis was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, did the walk from Selma to Montgomery … all these things I don’t think we do enough learning and teaching about. I know that’s a lot, but that’s my truth. That’s more important than any of the stuff going on down here.”

Paul was not the only person in the NBA Bubble teaching and reminding people about John Lewis, C.T. Vivian and social justice.

The statements from NBA players in recent days were calculated, whether they were a refocus on the importance of justice for Breonna Taylor by Jerami Grant, Dwight Howard and Tobias Harris, or Clippers coach Doc Rivers using his gift for telling a story to remind people about the awe-inspiring resolve of Lewis and activist Andrew Young.

Chris Paul is as efficient with his time with the media as he is with the ball on the court, so it was no surprise to see him on a Zoom call speaking on social justice education.

“I think we have a number of guys in our league who have always tried to do a good job of teaching others as well as education,” Paul said. “I think we’re all trying to do a good job of coming together and educating one another, keep this discussion going.

“I’m a long way from my family and my kids, but this morning all I could think about was trying to educate my kids more on these things. At times, we tend to teach them about athletics and sports and different things. All that is good and well, but the real education is some of these pioneers and activists who fought to give us these freedoms we at times take for granted.”

Two of the Thunder’s most interesting and important players are Darius Bazley and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The development of Gilgeous-Alexander and Bazley is imperative to the Thunder’s future.

As the seasoned veteran on the team, Paul has taken them under his wing. And his wing extends beyond the basketball court. Paul is looking at the two players he spends the most time with on the team and he sees surrogate sons, young Black men with platforms, opportunities and growth ahead of them.

Chris Paul spoke about both young players on his zoom call.

“Just like everybody else, Baze (Bazley) is finding his way in this league, but also trying to find himself as a man,” Paul said. “Aside from basketball once again, Baze is a young rookie going into the NBA, but is also being exposed to things in ways he can impact life off the court. I think that’s the thing we talk about right now more than basketball. We talk about life. Life as a Black man. Life as a guy who has a voice, who people are going to take a chance to listen to him. I think that’s more of the discussion with Baze right now.”

When asked if Gilgeous-Alexander has star potential, Paul went the extra mile to discuss what he sees.

“He is going to be a star in this league, so we’re continuing to try to educate each other on everything that’s going on around that’s not just the game. I think that’s the coolest part of being together right now in these situations: We can talk and understand what’s going on in America right now, the different social injustices and ways they can be active, the ways they can let their voice be heard.”

The final question on the Zoom call came from Gilgeous-Alexander.

“How does it feel to have Shai as a teammate?” Gilgeous-Alexander said, acting like a reporter. “Obviously, you’re like the Robin to his Batman.”

“It’s kinda like having an older version of Lil’ Chris around,” Paul joked, comparing Gilgeous-Alexander to his 11-year-old son. “Always trying to educate.”

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