Paul savors banner day at Wake
Two years ago, as Chris Paul recalls, he was having dinner with Wake Forest athletics director Ron Wellman when Wellman first talked about retiring Paul’s No. 3 jersey.
“I got goose bumps because I’ve been here since I was a kid looking up in the rafters an seeing all the jerseys,” said Paul, a Winston-Salem product who played in high school at West Forsyth.
On Saturday, Wellman’s suggestion finally came to fruition as Paul’s number became the 11th retired by the school with a banner unfurled in the rafters to go with the others who had their numbers retired – Dickie Hemric, Len Chappell, Charlie Davis, Skip Brown, Rodney Rogers, Muggsy Bouges, Tim Duncan, Rod Griffin, Randolph Childress and Josh Howard.
The ceremony came during halftime of Wake’s loss to Maryland on Saturday as Paul was accompanied by his wife and toddler son, with several in the near-capacity crowd wearing No. 3 gear and the pep band wearing t-shirts bearing CP3, which became Paul’s nickname.
“This may be a different feeling because this is home,” Paul said. “For my son, for my family who will always be here and will never leave, it will be something that I can always come home to.”
Paul said it was the first time that he has returned to Wake since he decided to go pro after a sophomore season in which he led Wake to 27 wins and the school’s first No. 1 ranking in both Top 25 polls.
“I haven’t been back because it seems like I’m always playing,” Paul said.
That would be playing in the NBA, becoming one of the best point guards in the league, first with New Orleans and then with the Los Angeles Clippers, and just two weeks earlier being selected MVP of the NBA All-Star game.
Paul, who averaged 15 points and 6.2 assists as a Deacon, said he was torn by the decision to turn pro.
“I’ll never forget the night sitting in my dorm room with (fellow player) Justin Gray and asking him if I should stay or should I go,’ Paul said. “We went out the next day with (football player) Chris Davis. We were planning to room together the next year and I was crushed when Justin and Chris started looking for a two-bedroom apartment. I went back and forth about leaving and people don’t know that.”
Paul returned this time even though it was the day between games for his Los Angeles Clippers. He scored 11 points and dished 15 assists in Cleveland on Friday night and then flew to Winston-Salem.
He attended a breakfast at the Embassy Suites, then came to the coliseum, spent a few minutes with press, then went off to a reception and spoke to Wake’s team. After the game started, he visited some corporate suites, spent time on the Deacon radio network and then made this way to a seat along the sideline. Late in the first half, he left to prepare for the ceremony in which he received a No. 3 jersey in a frame.
“I want to say a big thank you to my family and the Wake Forest family, to Mr. Wellman and everybody,” Paul said. “And I want to thank all my teammates, I loved playing with those guys,”
Then came time to unfurl Paul’s banner, which was put between those of another Winston-Salem native, Josh Howard, and Paul’s coach Skip Prosser, who died of a heart attack in 2007.
“It is just fitting that mine is between Winston-Salem’s own Josh Howard and coach Prosser,” Paul said. “it’s hard for me to talk about Coach Prosser in any way because I get emotional. He’s my guy and he knows. I’m not here without him, no question.”
Being humble, Paul said that he might have not started his freshman season if returning starter Taron Downey had not been sidelined by appendicitis.
“I wasn’t supposed to be the starting point guard,” Paul said. “People say ‘don’t ask what if’ but I always say where would I been if that had not happened.” .
He said the toughest part of the day was that his late grandfather and Prosser were not there to see it.
“Coach Prosser is the guy who made it all happen,” Paul said.
Paul accepted congratulations as he left the court and returned to his seat in the second half as his son held a picture of his father’s face on a stick, something that looked like one of those hand fans given out at church.
“This is right at the top,” Paul said before the game. “It’s one of the best days of my life because it’s something no one can take away from you.”
After the game, he was off for a flight to Los Angeles, where the Clippers will face the Knicks in a nationally televised game.
“The thing is this is timeless,” Paul said in his pregame remarks. “The thing that is timeless is that is your number and picture hanging there and that is something that will always be there.”