NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Chris Paul's All-Star weekend in New Orleans could have been awkward.
Much like LeBron James, Paul left his first NBA team in his prime, disappointing fans in the city where he rose to stardom.
Yet the gracious welcomes Paul has received around town this week
serve as reminders that franchise players can change teams, even under
less-than-ideal circumstances, without severing ties to the communities
they leave behind.
"It's always great to come back here," said Paul, who was traded to
the Los Angeles Clippers three seasons ago. "I'll never forget New
Orleans. I'll never have anything bad to say about New Orleans. I
wouldn't be where I am now without this city."
James can relate, even though some fans burned his old Cavaliers
jersey in the streets of Cleveland after he announced his decision to
play for Miami.
But while James took his basketball talents to south Florida, much of the life he had built in Ohio remains intact.
James maintains a palatial residence in Akron, where he grew up. He
recently made a $1 million donation to renovate his old high school gym
and outfit the school's athletic teams. He continues to sponsor various
events in northern Ohio, including a bike-a-thon to raise money for
Akron city schools.
"It doesn't matter where you go as far as your profession," James
said Friday afternoon, moments after laying concrete pavers on a New
Orleans school walkway for an NBA community service event tied to
"The most important thing is keeping a connection with the people
that represented you and people that you loved being around where you
were," James said. "I still have a connection in Cleveland and my
hometown of Akron, and I know Chris has great love and support here in
New Orleans, even though he's in L.A.
"Whatever team you play for, that has nothing to do with what you do
in the community. We just try to continue to strive for greatness in the
community, because you see these kids smiling, you see these kids
happy, that's going to live on long after our names are off the
Paul said the lasting bonds he formed in New Orleans "may have
something to do with the timing of when I got drafted, and Katrina."
"I tried to be part of the rebuilding process in coming here," Paul
continued. "We really got close to the city, like, really quick and it
will always be like that."
Paul's pro career was in its infancy when Hurricane Katrina struck.
When the team returned to New Orleans from two seasons of
storm-forced displacement to Oklahoma City, Paul became an uplifting
force in the recovery. When he wasn't on the court, he was in the
His first All-Star game was the one New Orleans hosted in 2008, when
large swaths of devastation remained across the city. Later that season,
he led the Hornets to within one victory of the Western Conference
While Paul grew up in North Carolina, he and his family established
roots in New Orleans during the six years Paul played for the club
formerly called the Hornets.
Paul's sister-in-law is a New Orleans native, and Paul's family has
continued its membership at a New Orleans church, where on Thursday a
christening was held for Paul's infant daughter, as well as for his
brother C.J.'s twin son and daughter. Paul said he planned to attend
services at the church on Sunday.
He also has continued his sponsorship of the CP3 After School Zone at
a school in New Orleans' Central City neighborhood. Last March, Paul
secured 115 tickets for students to attend a Clippers game in New
Orleans, and this past Thursday, he visited the school.
Paul visited another New Orleans school this week and was joined by Big Easy native Avery Johnson.
Johnson said Paul "got the biggest ovation of anybody."
"New Orleans still loves Chris," said Johnson, a former NBA player
and coach. "He's still passionate about the city and he gives back. I
think he has a great legacy here."
The enthusiasm Paul generated for the Hornets probably helped save
pro basketball in New Orleans, creating enough of an attachment to the
team that state and local leaders worked with the NBA on a new long-term
lease and on finding stable, local ownership.
In 2012, Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL's Saints, bought the club
and agreed to a 10-year lease extension, a deal that also brought the
All-Star game back to New Orleans.
"I was always a firm believer that this city deserved a team, needed a
team," Paul said. "So when I heard that the team was staying, I was
And it seems New Orleans still gets excited about Paul.