Chris Paul air-balled a free throw.
This was uncharacteristic for the West Forsyth High School point guard. With the game in hand, Paul was substituted out and wept, embracing his brother.
His box score read 61 points.
Chris Paul Drops 61 Points to Honor Grandfather
That number was special to Paul. Paul's grandfather, 61-year-old Nathaniel Jones, a local Winston-Salem, North Carolina service station owner, was murdered at his home only a day after Paul signed with Wake Forest University on a full basketball scholarship.
The night following his grandfather's death, Paul had a game against Parkland High.
Here's how ABC News recalled the moment back in 2002:
After returning to the basketball court, his first thought was "How can I go out there on that court knowing my grandfather's not there?" Paul said. "And my aunt mentioned before I went to the Parkland game, she said, 'How about 61 points for your granddad?' And I just thought to myself, 'That would be lovely' and I just thought to myself, 'Ain't no way I can do that.'"
The star basketball player would go on to do just that. He carved up the Parkland defense, scoring 24 points in the second quarter alone.
Late in the fourth quarter, he drove to the hoop and scored his 61st point on an and-one. He was six points away from the single-game state scoring record but didn't care. He went to the free-throw line.
One point for every year of his grandfather's life.
Paul has done all right for himself since. He was named a McDonald's All-American, averaged 15 points, 6.3 assists, and 3.9 rebounds in two years with the Demon Deacons, and was selected fourth overall by the New Orleans Hornets in the 2005 NBA Draft. He won NBA Rookie of the Year in 2006.
CP3's made stops around the league with the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, and was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer in a deal that included Russell Westbrook. The superstar point guard's made the All-NBA team seven times, the All-Defensive Team nine times, and the NBA All-Star team 10 times—winning the All-Star Game MVP in 2013. He won two Olympic gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 games.
Paul's best moment came in the first round of the 2015 playoffs when he hit the winning shot against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs with one second left in Game 7. He's never reached the NBA Finals but came closest in the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus the Golden State Warriors. Paul missed Games 6 and 7 of that series due to a hamstring injury.
In the offseason, Paul hangs with the Banana Boat crew of Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade.
Despite all the accolades, this night is among the top of his career highlights. Paul's worn number three his entire career, but number 61 is special.
This article was originally published April 8, 2020.
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