Los Angeles Clippers point guard and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul had never visited the birthplace of basketball before. He first time was last week, during induction weekend, when he received the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award for his exceptional community engagement work through his eponymous foundation.
The powerful history of the game spoke to him in ways that he hadn't expected. He was touched by stories of some of basketball's great African-American pioneers who were banned from hotels and treated in ways that were shameful. He sought out the plaque of the legendary HBCU coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines, the man who instructed Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and so many others during his illustrious career at Winston-Salem State, which is located near where Paul grew up.
"Today was my first day having the opportunity to come here, and it was kind of touching,'' Paul said in accepting the honor. "If not for this game, I am not here. If not for this game, my family is not in the situation we are in. And so I'm grateful for this game and what it has done for me and my family ..."
And then the tears came.
"It really hit me today being here around all the history that we take so much for granted," he continued.
For Chris Paul, the visit opened up the beauty and depth of a new world that he had taken for granted, and was most struck by what the legends of the game endured in paving the way for him and others.
"Every experience is different for every person, but this place? It got me," he said.