LOOKBACK: Why an airball is one of Chris Paul’s best career plays

MANILA, Philippines – Chris Paul is widely regarded as one of the best point guards of his generation, if not the best.

A multiple-time All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defense Team selection, the 35-year-old floor general is without a doubt a future first-ballot Hall of Famer when all is said and done.

Paul currently leads all active players in career assists and steals as he established himself as an all-time two-way talent. He was a fearless star in his prime and beyond, as evidenced by his multiple highlight plays from tip-off to crunch time.

Which is why it’s probably intriguing to know why, as the title suggests, an on-court mishap is likely going into his long list of career highlights.

Story of Papa Chili

Back in 2002, Paul was a 17-year-old high school sensation out of West Forsyth in Clemmons, North Carolina.

Averaging 30.8 points, 8 assists, 6 steals and 5 rebounds per game in his senior season, Paul was clearly on a path to success in college and beyond.

However, Paul’s senior season in high school became a year to remember for the wrong reason.

On November 15, 2002, one day after Paul committed to play for Wake Forest University, his grandfather Nathaniel Jones was tied up, beaten, and left to die after being robbed by 5 teenagers near his own car service station. He was 61.

All 5 juveniles were subsequently found and charged with murder. Two of them are still serving life sentences.

Paul was left understandably devastated in the days following the gruesome killing of one of his closest family member.

“Everyone has to die, but I just thought my granddad was one of those people who never would," Paul said in an interview with ABC News.

Jones, affectionately called “Papa Chili” by the community, was the first black man to open a car service station in North Carolina, according to an ESPN report. Paul and his brother came to work there and saw firsthand his grandfather’s generosity.

Papa Chili would often lend people money straight out of the cash register just to help other people get through tough times.

In a cruel twist, he died at the hands of robbers.

An airball for the ages

A few days later, a deflated Paul continued to grieve his loss but nonetheless suited up for his next game against Parkland High.

As he wrapped his head around the thought that his grandfather would no longer be around to watch him play ever again, his aunt came up to him with an idea to honor him.

“How about 61 points for your granddad?”

Paul thought about it and said, “Ain't no way I can do that.”

But there was no harm in trying, so he still set his mind on that goal. Sure enough, Papa Chili’s grandson found a fire in him on that day that burned hotter than ever before.

Per the ABC News report, Paul scored 24 points in the 2nd quarter alone, starting another West Forsyth blowout in a season where they went 27-3.

With two minutes to go in the game, the future NBA superstar already had 59 points, two away from his personal goal and 6 away from the state scoring record.

But for Paul, only one of those records mattered. He drove to the hoop and got fouled.

His shot fell. He had his 61. One point for each year of his grandfather’s life.

"And I laid it up and I got fouled and it went in," Paul recounted. "And I lay there for a second and was just overwhelmed because I knew that at this moment in time, this is something I'd never forget. Ever.”

“It just felt like I could have died and went to heaven right there."

With the game in the bag and his grandfather honored, an emotional Paul walked to the free throw line for the bonus shot and weakly flung the ball out of bounds.

His coach then quickly subbed him out to raucous cheering while his father Charles stood there stunned at what he just witnessed.

“It was just like everything came out of him," Charles told ABC News. "He just walked over to me and gave me a hug. He just fell into my arms.”

For that day, Paul sure did everyone proud, as his Papa Chili watched from above.

Heart of a champion

Fast forward to 2011, and Paul, now an All-Star and MVP candidate, opened up about his grandfather’s murderers to ESPN.

"These guys were 14 and 15 years old [at the time], with a lot of life ahead of them,” he said. “I wish I could talk to them and tell them, 'I forgive you. Honestly.'”

“I hate to know that they're going to be in jail for such a long time. I hate it."

Although the killers never gave Jones a second chance, Paul was still willing to give it to them. Even off the court, he wanted to hand out assists to his fellowmen.

“I miss my granddad. I understand that he's not coming back,” he said. “At the time, it made me feel good when I heard they went away for life. But now that I'm older, when I think of all the things I've seen in my life?”

“No, I don't want it. I don't want it."

An NBA title may already be out of reach for the grizzled veteran at this stage of his career, but just for that act of forgiveness, Paul can already call himself a champion in life. – Rappler.com