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Favorite son: as soon as he joined the NBA, Chris Paul launched a philanthropic campaign honoring his family and the people in his hometown who made his success possible.

Chris Paul is one of the brightest stars in the National Basketball Association, a must-see player with the New Orleans Hornets whose deft ball skills and eye-popping speed have attracted admirers all over the world. Yet, Paul believes that in his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., he is best known as the grandson of the late Nathaniel Jones. "I seriously believe my grandfather's legend in Winston-Salem is greater than mine will ever be. That's what kind of man he was."

Nathaniel Jones, feisty and independent, was the first African-American to own a gas station in North Carolina. Jones' popular Chevron station opened in 1964 at the end of a rural Winston-Salem road now built up with convenience stores and fast-food stops. Jones became a legend in that area because of his spirit and the trust he inspired in every customer for nearly four decades. Growing up, Paul worked many summers at his grandfather's gas station, operating the cash register, rotating tires and changing air filters. By watching and learning from his grandfather, Paul realized helping others was the most important thing someone could do.

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As he grew older, Paul became one of the best high-school basketball players in America. His grandfather was there every step of the way--including sitting at Paul's side when he realized his dream and signed to play college basketball with his hometown Wake Forest University. On Nov. 14, 2002, family, friends and classmates gathered in the West Forsyth High School gymnasium to watch Paul sign his letter of intent to play basketball at Wake. At the end of the ceremony, a beaming Jones took the Wake Forest cap he was wearing and placed it on Paul's head. "Christopher Emanuel Paul," Jones said, smiling, "I will remember this day for the rest of my life."

"He was so proud," Paul remembers. And then the next day, he was gone.

In an unfathomable tragedy, Jones died after being beaten and robbed by a group of teens as he unloaded groceries from his car in his driveway. Five teenagers tied Jones' hands behind his back, taped his mouth, and beat him around the head and face. Jones, who had a history of heart trouble, lay in his carport and died from cardiac arrhythmia. He was 61.

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"Most of the time, if you ask a kid who's their best friend, it's usually a classmate or their neighbor or something, but for me, it was my granddad," Paul tells SUCCESS. "Everybody knew him--they called him Mr. Jones. It was a Chevron station, but everybody called it Jones' Chevron. There were many times people would come by and need to get gas, and they'd be like, 'Mr. Jones, can I pay you later?' He'd be like, 'Sure.' Sometimes people would come back and pay him and sometimes they wouldn't. When you're a kid, you just sit back and watch, and you learn. You remember."

After he declared for the NBA draft following his sophomore year at Wake Forest and was selected fourth overall by the Hornets in the summer of 2005, Paul initiated a philanthropic campaign designed to highlight his dedication to his grandfather's spirit and the Winston-Salem community. He established a scholarship at Wake Forest named for his grandfather. He and his family created the CP3 Partnership in conjunction with The Winston-Salem Foundation to support charitable causes such as Habitat for Humanity, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Feed the Children, a Christian relief organization.

Paul and his family also launched "Winston-Salem Weekend," an ambitious four-day event they host each September. In 2008, he sponsored a concert by Grammy-winning rapper Ludacris, keeping ticket prices to just $10; dedicated a computer learning center; read to kids; played games with special-needs children; helped distribute boxes of food to 400 struggling families; hosted a formal dinner; ran a youth basketball camp; and created a pro-am bowling tournament that featured NBA players, including best friend LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Kevin Durant, as well as professional bowlers. And on Sunday, the Lord's Day in the Paul household, he invited everyone to church with him.

His charitable efforts aren't limited to his hometown though. Paul also has donated food baskets and bicycles for underprivileged children in New Orleans and Oklahoma City, where the Hornets played most of their home games after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina's devastation.

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Paul says his commitment to charity is rooted in the relationships he shared with his grandfather, his family and his hometown. His CP3 nickname comes from his family, combining his initials and, by coincidence, his jersey number. His father (Charles Paul) and older brother and manager (C.J. Paul) are nicknamed CP1 and CP2. It's Paul's family that makes sure he remains grounded and not spread too thin.

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"We're really a tight-knit family, and we've always been like that," says Paul, who, in 2006, won the NBA Community Assist Award for his charitable efforts.

As busy as he has been giving back, Paul's four professional seasons have been equally impressive. He was named Rookie of the Year, is a multiple All-Star and All-Defensive team selection, and led the Hornets into the second round of the 2008 NBA playoffs. Paul was awarded a multiyear contract extension worth $68 million and, to top it off, he won Olympic gold with the U.S. national team last year.

Paul also received a prized endorsement last year when Nike invited him to join its exclusive list of players with their own versions of a "Michael Jordan Brand" shoe. Special design details incorporated into the Jordan CP3II released in February make the shoe unique to Paul, including the number 61 (in honor of his grandfather) on the heel of every shoe. Paul says it's important to honor the people who helped shape him.

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While Paul has a friendly and generous reputation off the court, he's as fierce an opponent as you'll find on it. He attributes that to his competitive nature, which has been a factor in everything he does.

"I think part of that is just never wanting to be average. I have little cousins now, and I call them and ask them how their grades are and how they're doing in school. They'll say, 'Well, I am passing.' I am always trying to tell them that's not enough. Pass is what everybody does, and there's no way you can separate yourself like that. In everything I've done, I always just hated to lose more than I like to win."

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Paul, 24, has become the NBA's point guard of the future. He's an unbelievable scorer, a great defender despite his 6-foot size, a player who controls the game's tempo, creates opportunities for his teammates and challenges them as well. LeBron James has called him the league's best point guard "because he had eyes in the back of his head." Paul set even higher standards for his position in 2009. He broke a league record of 108 consecutive games with at least one steal, led the league in both assists and steals while averaging 21 points a game late in the year and, after finishing second to Kobe Bryant in the MVP voting in 2008, once again was considered an MVP candidate with James of the Cavaliers and Bryant of the Lakers.

Yet, all the highs Paul has experienced in basketball are tempered by the losses he's suffered, including his grandfather as well as his college coach, Skip Prosser, a friend and mentor who died of a heart attack at age 56 in July 2007. He remains mindful of their gifts and lessons that contributed to his success.

"The people back home who helped me get to the point where I am today, I am extremely grateful for them. I know all the different things that took place to make this possible, and I try to give other kids the same opportunity and help them understand that sports is not as difficult as life, but all of it brings some disappointment. So there's one thing you have to have, and that's family," he says.

"It's very important that anyone who asks learns how I became the person and player that I am. And I became that person because of other people."
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Title Annotation:Making a Difference; National Basketball Association
Author:Yaeger, Don
Publication:Success
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2009
Words:1376
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