Chris Paul's Memories of His Grandfather Endure

By Ben Stinar
Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors
Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors / Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images


Chris Paul can still remember the phone number of his grandfather's Chevron service station.

He says the number so fast it's like he's back in North Carolina 17-years-ago answering the phone just as he used to.

"Jones Chevron!" Paul would say when he answered.

In his head, Paul also remembers an image of his eight-year-old self at his grandmother's funeral. Being visual is something he describes himself as, and he can remember the picture in his head of his grandfather hugging him as they sat next to each other that solemn day.

Nathanial Jones, better known as "Papa Chili," was Paul's grandfather and, even more importantly, his best friend. Papa Chili owned a Chevron service station in North Carolina and became somewhat of a provider for Paul's family. Over the summers, Paul and his older brother C.J. worked for their grandfather at the Chevron station, and when their father got laid off, he too worked at Papa Chili's.

Everybody in their community knew Jones, but to Paul, he was everything.

As a senior at West Forsyth High School in 2002, Paul was a rising star, eventually becoming a McDonald's All-American that season, and his grandfather would never miss a game even if it meant closing the Chevron service station early.

However, tragedy struck that year.

Nathanial Jones' life was taken from him during a robbery.

Paul was 17-years-old. He just signed with Wake Forest the day before. His grandfather was with him. The next day, Jones was dead.

"When it's sudden and tragic like that, it's hard to deal with," Paul said in a phone interview with The Big Lead.

Losing his grandfather happened before the nine trips to the All-Star game, eight appearances on the All-NBA team and becoming the NBPA President. Such an event like this could have derailed Paul from ever reaching these heights.

He had every reason to go the wrong way in life after this.

The reason he continued going the right way was, in part, because of his grandfather.

"The biggest thing I think that at that young age that I didn't pay attention to and I know that I got from my grandad now that I'm older is work ethic," he said.

When watching Paul play on the court, his work ethic is undeniable. He has been on the All-Defensive team nine times, and seven times on the first team. On the other side of the ball, he is one of the game's greatest at orchestrating an offense, averaging nearly 10 assists per game for his ongoing career.

That work ethic was on full display back in 2002 just days after his grandfather passed and the day after his funeral. With his visual memory, he can still clearly recall the day of his infamous high school game.

"We had a two-story house, and I remember my aunt was sitting at the kitchen counter table," he said. "I was hugging my parents before I left to go to pre-game shoot around at the gym, and I hugged her before I walked out the top, the sliding glass door, and that's when she said it to me."

His aunt told him to score 61 points that night, the age of Papa Chili when he passed.

"I remember going to the game where our team had like a walk-through or shoot around, and I was just real quiet," he said. "I had a lot on my mind and didn't tell anybody."

That night, a 17-year-old Paul scored exactly 61 points in honor of Papa Chili. He missed a free throw at the end to keep it 61.

Last season, on March 22, Paul's teammate James Harden also scored 61 points on what would have been Papa Chili's birthday.

"It was crazy that happened," Paul said.

Paul wishes that when he was younger, he would have taken more pictures and videos to have as many memories as possible with his grandfather. There are also his two cousins who are like a little brother and sister to him. They did not get to know Papa Chili as well as him and C.J. did.

Now Paul's own kids, Chris and Camryn, who are 10 and seven respectively, want to know about their great-grandfather too. Paul can remember the first time his son Chris brought up Papa Chili back when Paul played for the Clippers and lived in the neighborhood of Bel-Air Crest in Los Angeles.

"We were in the garage, I can see it," he said. "Someone had painted a picture or something like that for me of me and my grandfather, and we had it in the back of the car. I was like 'Chris you know who that is?' and he was like 'yeah that's Papa Chili.'"

The memory of of his grandfather still lives on through Paul's basketball shoes. Every single one of them has a Chevron logo on them. Sometimes it's hidden. Sometimes it's in plain sight. Wherever it is, it's always with Paul.

"It's to honor my grandfather," he said. "If you pick up any one of my shoes 1-12 and look at it somewhere on the shoe, there's going to be a Chevron logo somewhere symbolizing my grandfather."

Papa Chili's memory also stays alive through the basketball court that Paul refurbished 10 minutes away from the service station his grandfather owned. The court is named after Papa Chili. There is also the Chris Paul Foundation that Paul and his family started that sends kids to Wake Forest on a scholarship in his name every year.

Nathanial Jones meant so much to Paul and his family, but just as much to everyone else in East Winston, North Carolina. There would be times when people would not have enough money for gas, and he would let them pay him when they had the money.

"As much as my grandad meant to our family, he meant more than that to everyone in the community," Paul said.

Paul learned immensely from his grandfather, but the most important thing was the importance of family. Without guidance from his family, there may have been no NBA superstar Chris Paul. As a 17-year-old kid, he had to learn the hardest lesson in life and found a way to make himself the best person he could be.

"Possessions, they come, and they go," he said. "Family good, bad or indifferent, should last forever."

Just as Paul's memories of his grandfather do.