Chris Paul: 'I Had $151 in My Bank Account When I Declared for the NBA'
Chris Paul is a basketball superstar. He's the face of national marketing campaigns and president of the NBA Players Union. But Paul will be the first to admit that it wasn't always this way. He needed to develop and grow to reach his current platform -- and he doesn't intend to stop learning anytime soon.
In this Q&A, the Houston Rockets point guard breaks down how his time as head of a union has impacted him, how he makes investment decisions and how his life has changed since he declared for the NBA draft.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You're president of the NBA Players Union, as voted on by the players. What have you done so far in that role, and what are some of your goals for the future?
Being president of the Union has been a lot of work, but it's been unbelievably educational and informative. Gratifying and humbling. One of the biggest things that we did -- and when I talk, it's not me, it's our union as a whole -- is provide health health insurance for our players. We instituted a health program for all retired players with three or more years of service. It's awesome. When you come into this league at 19 -- some guys at 18 or 20 years old -- you have no idea about health insurance. Like, what is that? So every year now, we hold a clinic where retired players can go and have a blood test, heart exam, EKG and everything.
The day of my first game back [from a hamstring injury], I went over to the Houston arena, and there might have been 15 or 20 former players there. They were saying how much this is helping those guys -- how it's actually saving their lives.
When did you implement the clinics and insurance?
We did it a few years ago. Our executive committee talked about it, and we were like, "Man, you know, this would be huge. We'd be the first league to have this." Our board presented it to the players, and it was a really good discussion. The one thing that we all will have in common won't be how many points we scored in our career or that we all won the same amount of championships. One thing is certain: We will all be retired players at some point in time.
Exactly. Have you ever heard of Tiny Archibald? Through the screening last year in New York, he found out that he had a heart issue. He had to have surgery, and it saved his life. So if we didn't have this program, he would have lost his life. [Nate Archibald needed a heart transplant, which he eventually received.] Think about it: Guys are out there pushing their bodies to the limit -- especially 30 to 40 years ago or even longer than that. When you stopped playing, you didn't have this health care system in place -- even if you had bad knees or a bad back from playing all that time.
I played college basketball, and everything was taken care of for me as a scholarship athlete. Now, I've been in the NBA for 14 years. If I have an injury or anything like that, the team doctors send me to get an MRI. I don't know how much that costs. That doesn't come to me. When I had kids, I started figuring what a co-pay was. My wife would let me know how good my insurance was. I was like, "Oh really? I don't know." My whole life, I've always dealt with that stuff indirectly. Yes, we're very blessed, but it's crazy. Like if I need an MRI, I'll go in, get an MRI, and leave. All we do is sign to get cleared, but we don't see the paperwork of how much it costs. As professional athletes, we don't live in the real world.It's awesome that Nate Archibald can see such a difference in his life.
Our players are saving other players' lives.
What are some new union goals going forward?
One of the big goals is just to continue to try to educate our guys as much as possible on financial literacy. I'm still always learning, and I always hate it as I think about it more and more: Every year, as I get older, you always hear how such-and-such lost all their money. I've even sat around in conversations with people like, "How did they do that? No way I'd ever do that." But a lot of it is that we were thrust into a situation at a young age and given this money with no knowledge of anything. Anything. It's frustrating, and I wish I knew the answer for it.
Have you ever heard the crazy statistic about the lottery, where people who win the lottery file for bankruptcy within the first three to five years? Well, everyone in our league basically hit the lottery. Obviously, the union tries to do a good job with programs, but it's tough.
That really puts things in perspective. I do think people look at an NBA player and ask, "How could they lose all their money?" But you hear about it all the time with people who win the lottery, and nobody seems surprised in those cases, even though those people are often adults -- not 20-year-old kids.
I had about $151 in my bank account -- might have been $200 -- when I was in college. Then I declared for the draft, and my agency said they'd give me a $100,000 line of credit. Luckily, my parents said, "You don't need that. Take $25,000." Literally that day, my bank account went from about $151 to $25,151. And that didn't come with any type of education as far as spending the money. I was a sophomore in college.
My girlfriend and I usually went to T.G.I. Fridays at the mall with one of my teammates and his girlfriend, and we'd always get two checks. That day, it was one check, and it's been one check ever since.
You also control the marketing arm of the union. You've been the face of some marketing campaigns but also work behind the scenes. What were some of your favorite campaigns to work on?
The State Farm partnership has been amazing. The team includes a lot of people who have been there since day one, and the process of it has been so much fun. I remember when we shot the first spot. About a day or two after, someone got pictures of it and thought we were shooting a movie.
It's crazy how it's grown. For years, the first thing people said to me was, "Are you Chris, or are you Cliff?" I actually played golf with Bill Clinton years ago, and that's what he said when he came to the first tee. I'll never forget that Bill Clinton said something like, "I wasn't sure if I was playing golf today with Chris or Cliff." I think what's been cool about that whole partnership with State Farm is getting an opportunity to show not only my personality but also the personalities of others. We've got a number of guys that have been in the spots with us over the years, and that's probably the the funniest part.
Guys like James Harden and Trevor Ariza.
Yeah, man, especially getting the two of them -- James, and then obviously Trevor, who's one of my best friends -- because they got an opportunity to see that these spots live forever. I was talking to Trevor a couple of days ago, and he said everywhere he goes, people always ask him to sing that Backstreet Boys song.
I got to do a spot years ago with John Stockton. John Stockton never did commercials when he played -- ever. Ever. It might have been one of the first times he did a commercial or something like that, and he was in one of our commercials. It was about about assists and stuff, and he's the all-time assist leader for the NBA -- and that's a record that will never be broken, just for the record. So for him to be in the spot was something I'll never forget.
Speaking of assists, with State Farm, you've also been able to start the Exist to Assist Community Program. Could you tell me about how that started and what you're working on there?
This partnership is probably not spoken about enough. Sometimes, you have partnerships with companies, and it's just the commercial spot. But with State Farm, what we've done is a real thing. We don't just talk about assisting for clicks on the phone or to be funny. It's real.
We go into underserved communities and put learning centers together around the country -- in L.A., in my hometown in North Carolina, in New Orleans, and Portland. We're in Houston now, just trying to level the playing field for kids in underserved communities to have the same resources as kids in those really nice schools and neighborhoods.
Is that similar to what you're working on with the CP3 Academy?
The CP3 Academy is our training academy for basketball. That's in Winston-Salem and Greensboro, so it's about skill development and basketball education. And people would usually think that means drills, but the coolest part for me is knowing that our kids learn. They'll have a word for a week, which might be "integrity." All week long, before they train, they may have to tell the coach what "integrity" means. The next week, it may be "responsibility." Along with basketball development, it's life skills.
And that's in Winston-Salem. That's home for you, right?
That is home for me, and I'm actually part-owner of our minor league baseball team there to call the Winston-Salem Dash. They're the single-A under the Chicago White Sox.
Were you a baseball player?
No, but growing up, I remember that team when they were with the Winston-Salem Spirit -- back then, they were the Winston-Salem Warthogs. When I saw an opportunity to have ownership of a team in my hometown, I was all over it.
You've invested in quite a few things -- baseball teams, Muzik headphones and more. What attracts you to invest? Is it one thing or multiple factors?
I don't think it's one thing, but if you see me investing in anything or promoting anything, I really use it and I believe in it. I don't think I can really be fake and phony about something.
I'm an investor in the company WTRMLN WTR, and I'm on the advisory board. It's a super clean product, and it's about hydration. It's healthy and effective at the same time. There are 800 million pounds of ugly watermelons that go unused every year. I did not know that. I grew up wanting to go to the grocery store with my mom all the time, and watermelons on display look nice -- you forget you forget about the ones that might have gotten sunburned a little bit. Our WTRMLN WTR is made using all those watermelons.What else are you working on that you're really excited about?
My partnership with the Turner Multifamily Impact Fund. Bobby Turner is my partner in this, and we're trying to help with the housing issues that we have in America. Nearly one in two rental households spend over 30 percent of their income on rent. That's crazy, right?
I live in New York, so that doesn't surprise me. But that's a lot.
Yeah, so we're going into these different housing developments and providing services. Say there's a teacher at a school nearby. We put out applications to teachers in the surrounding area asking if they would want to live in our unit. If they do, we may sublease their place so that three or four days a week, they're available for tutoring for the kids to live there in the development.
We do the same thing for police officers -- we may want two police officers living in our unit -- and we'll do the same thing for a nurse so that if kids get sick at night they can come there. We're making the housing development a safe haven, making it more like a community. That way, people aren't just coming in and buying up the properties, moving the people out and raising the rent, while these people haven't had an increase in income.