North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.
Paul’s role model as a youngster growing up in Winston-Salem was his grandfather Nathaniel Jones. When he wasn’t on the basketball court honing his considerable skills, Paul would spend countless hours at Jones’ service station helping out and learning life lessons from a man he described as his best friend.
On the day he signed his national letter of intent with Wake Forest, Paul put on his grandfather’s Deacons hat to announce his decision. One day later, on Nov. 15, 2002, Jones was murdered while being robbed outside his home.
As a tribute, Paul decided to score 61 points — one for each year of his grandfather’s life — in his first game back on the court for West Forsyth High School following the tragedy. He did just that, punctuating an emotional performance by intentionally missing a free throw to stay at 61 before coming out of the game against Parkland.
“This was one of those times when I felt there was just no way, I don’t care what kind of defense that you play, who you put in front of me, there was no way you’re going to stop me from getting that goal,” Paul told ESPN for a feature the network did on him shortly after the game.
The national attention he received was the first introduction many had to the player that would ultimately develop into one of the best point guards ever to play the game. But it wouldn’t be the last.
Paul went on to play two seasons at Wake Forest, helping the team gain the No. 1 national ranking for the first time in school history while earning first-team All-America honors both on the court and in the classroom.
He was then drafted fourth overall in the NBA Draft by the then-New Orleans Hornets, beginning a professional career that has seen him win the league’s Rookie of the Year award, be named MVP of an All-Star Game, win two Olympic gold medals, lead the league in assists four times and steals six times while earning eight All-NBA selections during his 15 seasons with the Hornets/Pelicans, Clippers, Rockets and Thunder.