Wise Words from Chris Paul

Wake Forest hosts basketball player Chris Paul on campus as the Leadership Project speaker on Wednesday, September 13, 2017. (Courtesy Wake Forest University)


This week, Wait Chapel was graced by the presence of a legend. A former NBA rookie of the year, nine time All-Star, four time NBA First Team selection, and Demon Deacon basketball alumnus Chris Paul (‘05) returned back to Winston-Salem to speak with President Nathan Hatch as part of The Leadership Project. The Project has hosted a prominent group of speakers on campus, engaging members of the Wake Forest community with inspiring stories from leaders such as Tony Dungy, Charles Best, and Congressman Donna Edwards, who all represent a variety of professional paths, span a range of age groups and embrace diverse world views. Yet, their most recent speaker might’ve taken the cake.

For Chris Paul, being one of the most talented and respected players in the NBA was not enough; instead, Paul sought to become a leader both on and off the court. Elected President of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) by his teammates and competitors in 2013, Chris fulfilled his goal of becoming a leader, and has served with diligence and passion while playing at an All Star level. Furthermore, he has led the Chris Paul Family Foundation with courage and excellence. Perhaps his most inspiring, and impressive, awards were the 2016 ESPY’s “Humanitarian of the Year” award and the 2016 Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. While being a leader in the basketball community, he also sets the standard for leading off the court.

Students, staff, and alumni alike showed up in droves to see him speak, and they weren’t disappointed. Talking about his upbringing, his relationships with his family, and his NBA career, he held the listener’s attention for the entire time. Students were able to learn a lot from what he said from the beginning to the end. One of the first experiences and teachings that he shared from his life was: “In our household it was never about what the school expected you to do, but it was about what we expect in this household.”

Wake Forest has certain requirements, expectations, and guidelines that we, as students, are meant to meet. Paul attributed some of his success to going above the minimums that school administrators set. Wake Forest students should strive to be great and unique individuals, not a bland mix of people that aim to simply achieve the requirements. Be a leader of your own life, don’t let ink on paper lead it for you.

While most of the Wake Forest student body, if not all, couldn’t relate to the life of an NBA player, Paul spoke about things that all aspiring professions could relate to and use to succeed.

The very first question asked was perfect for linking the life of the NBA superstar and Wake Forest students: “How do you manage high levels of stress and multiple tasks at the same time?” Deemed “Work Forest” by its student body, Wake Forest puts a lot of stress and pressure on students to succeed with the sheer mass of work and quality that is often required. With the student’s ready to hear the solution to their stress, Paul took a second to think and came back with a relatable and informative response, “Whether it’s a meeting, or it’s a test, or whatnot like that, my biggest thing is to prepare. And the thing that Kevin Garnett taught me this past year, in those situations, is breathing…Instead of tensing up, one of the biggest things that I’ve learned to do is to breathe.” Prepare and breathe. Two simple answers for a problem that seems so complex for students on campus. If it works for Chris Paul, it’ll work for you too.

The talk today was full of fantastic advice such as this, and I believe it will lead to increased leadership amongst the student body and a de-stressed campus. A week ago, some students might have told you that only a god could have done that.

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