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Chris Paul’s self-belief pays off through winding road to NBA Finals

Suns star Chris Paul

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 30: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns holds the Western Conference Finals trophy after Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 30, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

The Thunder, grateful for Chris Paul’s contributions and pivoting into rebuilding, let him choose his destination last season.

Speculation quickly turned to the Lakers. They had just won the championship, and Paul would have made them an even bigger favorite to repeat. Paul lives in Los Angeles. He’s close with LeBron James.

But Paul reportedly didn’t want to chase a ring with the already-established Lakers.

Instead, he chose Phoenix. The Suns were a rising young team, and Paul made them better. But Phoenix hadn’t made the playoffs in a decade. In his mid-30s, Paul was running out of time while it seemed the Suns would need more of it before making a deep postseason run.

Really, it seemed like Paul settled.

Settled for a team where he’d still lead on and off the floor. Settled for a team close to his home in Los Angeles rather than a stronger contender further away. Settled for the comfort of a familiar coach (Monty Williams, who coached Paul in New Orleans) and star (Devin Booker, who’s represented by the same agency).

Settled for not winning a ring.

Not that Paul viewed it that way.

“Any team that I’m on,” Paul said shortly before the trade, “I think that we’re competing for a championship.”

Yesterday, Paul led the Suns into the NBA Finals.

Paul began celebrating in earnest right after Patrick Beverley pushed him down, rising to pump his fists with a smile.

What a rough-and-tumble path to this point.

Paul spent six seasons in New Orleans and another six with the Clippers. Though he led some strong teams, especially in L.A., he became known for never advancing past the second round. He engineered a trade to the Rockets and finally reached the Western Conference finals, but while pushing the mighty Warriors to the brink, he got hurt. The situation in Houston devolved, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta griping about Paul’s contract. Houston included multiple picks to unload Paul (and get Russell Westbrook).

In Oklahoma City, Paul re-established himself as a star. He has played even better in Phoenix.

Now, he is finally combining his awesome individual play with team playoff success.

By making 11 All-Star teams before reaching the NBA Finals, Paul ties Kevin Garnett and Oscar Robertson for the most.

Here are the players with most All-Star selections before their first NBA Finals (team for first Finals):

pbt chris paul suns finals

Paul’s mission obviously isn’t complete. He wants to finish the run by beating the Bucks or Hawks.

Maybe all those years of falling short will drive him.

The other stars who accomplished so much before reaching the NBA Finals – Garnett (2008 Celtics) and Robertson (1971 Bucks) – won the title.

Though Paul is 36 this isn’t necessarily the end of the line, either. Six of the seven players who first reached the NBA Finals after making eight All-Star teams – Garnett, Robertson, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Ray Allen and David Robinson – got to a second Finals. The exception – Patrick Ewing – had his team (1999 Knicks) make another Finals, though with him injured.

For now, Paul is focusing on one Finals at a time.

The Finals he, but few others, envisioned for him.