Chris Paul A Leader On and Off the Basketball Court

October 7, 2015
By Kenneth Quinnell Reprined: http://www.aflcio.org

Chris Paul

Growing up, I was always a big fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. Sure, I was from Florida, but we didn't have professional basketball back then, so I looked around for a team to support and the Lakers were it.

Led by a flashy point guard, Magic Johnson, the team entertained, it had fun and it won a lot. Over the years, the team had its ups and downs but after winning back-to-back titles during the 2008–2009 and 2009–2010 seasons, the team was aging and it secured a trade for star point guard Chris Paul. Lakers fans like myself were salivating at the idea of Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul running circles around the opposition and bringing more titles to one of the greatest franchises in sports history.And then a funny thing happened. Then-National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern vetoed the trade based on the premise that Paul's then-team, the New Orleans Hornets, needed him.

The argument seemed to be somewhat disingenuous to Lakers fans, when almost immediately after the veto of the trade to the Lakers, the NBA allowed Paul to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. At the time, the veto seemed arbitrary and not actually based on any league rules or principles.Paul also was quite puzzled by the whole thing. And like any great point guard, he decided to take control of the situation and press for change. He called up Stern and asked him about the deal. He didn't like the answer he got and so his next call was to the players' union.

Paul joined the Clippers and quickly helped his team become one of the better teams in the league. But he didn't forget. Later, he put his name on the ballot for the union presidency. He won.Paul learned a lot about unions growing up. ESPN reports: Paul grew up in a churchgoing, working-class family in Winston-Salem, North Carolina—the kind of family in which you knew your role, minded your manners and followed the loving and sometimes stern dictates of your elders. "If I talk about the No. 1 leader I ever met," he says, "it's my dad."In the 1980s, when Chris was a toddler, Charles Paul ran an assembly line building circuit boards for AT&T, a workplace organized by the Communication Workers of America. Twice, his union went on strike, ultimately winning pay raises, better health plans and stronger pensions. But it wasn't easy.

"I was at home awhile, and there was no money coming in," Charles says. "We had to take on loans to pay our bills and make ends meet. But our union was trying to make a point."Chris was too young at the time to remember the strikes now. But a tone in the family was set: Being a member of a union is something to be proud of. Being a leader is even better.

Now, Paul is focused on improving the union: "Rebranding the union," he says. "The biggest thing we wanted all the players to know is that this is your union. We are one." He's sought to develop leadership both with existing stars like LeBron James and Steph Curry and for upcoming players, where there has been an emphasis on player education and communication. Paul also pushed his fellow players to choose Michele Roberts as the National Basketball Players Association's first woman executive director. All of which is important in current contract negotiations. While the current collective bargaining agreement runs through 2020–2021, either side can opt out in 2017. The players are calling for fundamental changes like increased revenue sharing for players and a loosened salary cap. Without an agreement, a work stoppage is likely.

"I've never been in this situation," Paul said. "You know, going through what we're about to. I would say, hopefully, no work stoppage or anything like that. That's the ultimate goal." Cleveland Cavaliers player James Jones, a member of the union's executive committee, has faith that Paul will fight for the players. "You know how tenacious he is on the court?" he said. "It's no different behind the scenes in our meetings. Chris starts the conversation and finishes the conversation."

October 7, 2015

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