Oklahoma City Thunder’s Chris Paul cherishes family time during COVID-19 pandemic

Just over a month later, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul still struggles to process what he experienced.

“That night,” Paul said before sighing. “It was crazy.”

Yes, it was. Paul and his teammates stood on the court and appeared ready for tipoff. Then, the officials abruptly ended a game that did not even start at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. Soon enough, those on the Thunder learned that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Shortly after, the NBA suspended the season indefinitely.

“My first instinct was to get back to my family,” Paul told USA TODAY Sports. “Everyone thinks about the game and what happened that night. But my first instinct was to get back to my family, to my wife and kids.”

His second instinct? He wanted to help any way he could. He forgets the exact details. But either Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell or forward Joe Ingles contacted Paul and asked if he could send them any wine. The Jazz had struggled to sleep after getting tested and finding a hotel, and needed to unwind. So Paul had 12 bottles of wine delivered to them “to make the time go by.” Utah coach Quin Snyder thanked Paul publicly for the gesture.

Meanwhile, Paul was dealing with his own restlessness. He could not wait to return to his home in Encino, Calif. to be with his wife (Jada), 10-year-old son (Chris) and 7-year-old daughter (Camryn). He had spent most of his first season in Oklahoma City away from his family. So this moment crystalized why he missed them.

“This is the most we’ve all been able to be together,” Paul said. “That’s the case for a lot of families at home. It’s one of those things where you learn new things and learn not to take some things for granted.”

Paul did not just speak in platitudes. He spoke with emotion.

Paul remains aware that he made his 10th NBA All-Star appearance after becoming rattled with injuries the past two year in Houston. He knows the Thunder (40-24) were on pace to nab a fifth playoff seed before the NBA postponed the season. And he admittedly has spent plenty of his day fulfilling his role as the president of the National Basketball Players Association in hopes to salvage the season.

But Paul has also maximized his family time. So much that he did not seem to consider it difficult to put his frustration over his successful season into perspective.

“I’m a hell of a competitor,” Paul said. “But I think, first and foremost, I’m a human being.”

Therefore, Paul said he has talked with Chris and Camryn plenty of times of having empathy for the health-care workers, grocery store employees, teachers and the more than 15 million that have lost their job. Confined with shelter-in-place rules, Paul has included his family in his daily workouts. Paul also brought his son when he competed in H-O-R-S-E against WNBA star Allie Quigley. With his kids taking classes through Zoom sessions, Paul has also tried to help them with their homework assignments. He admittedly does not often know the answers.

“For most athletes, we always strive to be the best and try to be perfect,” Paul said. “I’ve been able to realize how I’m not perfect. I’m not. That’s okay. You can get better at it. So I’m just trying to be better in different aspects.”

So when Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns lost his mother, Jacqueline, to COVID-19, Paul supported him partly by revealing his imperfections. As both an NBPA rep and a friend, Paul has reached out with support and offered “to be a sounding board.” But as Paul told him, “At 34, I don’t think I’m strong enough to endure what he is going through.”

That only reinforces why Paul has cherished these moments even if he no longer can enjoy what he did just over a month ago.

Said Paul: “This has been a time to understand how real time is with my family.”  

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

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