It can be worth waiting for

At long last, Chris Paul is going to the NBA Finals

Chris Paul gets to go to his first NBA Finals.
Chris Paul gets to go to his first NBA Finals.
Image: Getty Images

Perhaps I should save this until after we see how the NBA Finals pan out. If Chris Paul doesn’t get his ring, everything that’s been said about him before he clinched his first appearance in the Finals, after the Suns blew out the Clippers, 130-103, last night, could be trotted back out (and he clinched it just about by himself).

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But there’s a lot of shitty news in the ol’ sportseroo yesterday and today. Take your pick. It’s usually like this, and it’s our job to pick through it, but sometimes you have to be reminded why you bother.

If you can’t feel anything at the unrestrained joy, and relief, that Paul showed last night, then maybe it is time to pack it all in. I was surprised at being reminded Paul has been around for 16 goddamn years, even though he seems like he’s always been a fixture in the NBA. And yet I can remember watching his Wake Forest team getting kicked around by Illinois in 2004. That was only a million years ago.

I know there’s a large swath of fans that point out it’s not hard to live the NBA life, so who cares about spending 16 years without a Finals appearance? There’s the money, the ads, the fame. Those same people will happily tell you that players don’t care enough, which Paul clearly disproved last night. Can’t have it both ways.

When things don’t work out, it’s always the stars that get bloodied. Where Paul was supposed to drag a Clippers team coached by known-clod Vinnie Del Negro and then recently discovered clod Doc Rivers, I’ll leave for you to decide. But Paul took the brunt of it after Lob City fizzled out. He took the blame in Houston, too. It could have worked there. If he hadn’t been hurt in 2018 maybe the Rockets get that Game 7 against Golden State. At the very least, he would have made at least one of those 703 straight three-pointers they managed to miss.

Everyone was loading up the rifle after the Suns fell flat in Game 5 with a chance to put the Clippers out of their misery. I still can fall into the trap of using one game as a referendum. But sometimes it’s just one game, and anything can go off the boil in just one game. Paul proved that last night in Game 6. Dropping 41 overall and 31 in the second half while shooting 66 percent from the field is certainly definitive.

I’ve written in the past that NBA players have to deal with the constant judging of their careers purely through the lens of whether it was decorated with a championship or not. Every other sport you can find an excuse for why someone didn’t win, but the NBA is a league built on stars. You know it means a lot to these guys. Paul has had to listen for over a decade to it all. Whether he was being pinned as the reason or just ancillary, he couldn’t miss the chatter.

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But it’s more than that. It’s internal. There’s a drive, otherwise why would they keep doing this for so long? There had to be points along the way where Paul wondered why even bother. Now he knows. Can’t help but feel heartened by it. Get four more, Chris.