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2017 NBA Playoffs

Clippers’ Chris Paul aims to leave lasting imprint

Star guard brought respectability to L.A.’s other franchise. He believes he can help bring a title as well

There are four Los Angeles Lakers statues in front of Staples Center: Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and a 9-foot, 1,200-pound hanging Shaquille O’Neal. Late Hall of Fame Lakers announcer Chick Hearn is featured on the sidewalk just off Chick Hearn Court. Former Los Angeles Kings hockey star Wayne Gretzky and boxer Oscar De La Hoya also have statues, and ex-Lakers star Kobe Bryant is likely next in line.

When the Los Angeles Clippers finally get a statue, expect star guard Chris Paul to be first selected after he brought much-needed respect and winning to a then-laughed-at franchise when he arrived in 2011. Thousands of fans walk by those statues and take pictures on NBA game nights and during any event at Staples Center. Paul, however, said he has never seen the statues.

“I ain’t gonna lie to you, I haven’t drove by those statues yet,” Paul told The Undefeated late Tuesday night. “I don’t come in that way. No, I don’t come in that way. Where are they at, by the way? Are they in the front? We come in that back way. …

“I would love to have a statue. Love it. Absolutely. But there is a lot of work to be done before that’s the case. With those guys out there, you think about leaving a lasting imprint. It’s bigger than the game. All those guys out there have done that.”

The first work that Paul and the Clippers need to get done is to knock off a tough Utah Jazz team.

After losing Game 1, Paul sparked the Clippers to a 99-91 victory over the Rudy Gobert-less Jazz to even the first-round series. The nine-time NBA All-Star had a well-rounded performance with 21 points, 10 assists, 3 steals and 1 block despite foul trouble that limited him to 32 minutes. The Clippers’ next stop is Utah, where Paul expects a tough environment during the Jazz’s first home playoff game since 2012.

Paul sat down with The Undefeated after the Game 2 victory to talk about his dream of the Clippers’ first championship, his possible free agency, a playoff lesson from the past, social conscience, raising two young black kids to be appreciative and humble, celebrity friendships and more.

What kind of mentality did you have entering Game 2 and where was your frustration level?

I don’t think frustration was it. Let’s bounce back. I told the guys that I didn’t expect to go 16-0 winning the playoffs. I always draw back to my first experience in the playoffs in ’08. I remember in the second round playing against the [San Antonio] Spurs and we [New Orleans Hornets] beat them in Game 1. We [beat] them by 19 and beat them in Game 2 bad again [by 18]. I remember just looking at them and they were unfazed. That’s when I learned that in the playoffs each game takes a personality of its own.

What do you think of the challenge that the Jazz present?

It’s there, but I think we have somewhat of a veteran team. Playing on the road isn’t all that [intimidating] for us. We’ve been in tough environments. We will be OK.

What are your thoughts about the Jazz playing without center Rudy Gobert, who is out indefinitely with an injured knee suffered 11 seconds into Game 1?

You respect your opponent. We’re not excited about Gobert being out. No. Whoever is out there, that’s who we play. We’re a team that has been hit by the injury thing before, too. Even when it happened in Game 1, me and B.G. [Blake Griffin] looked at each other like, ‘Let’s play.’ It is what it is.

What comes to mind when you hear talk about you not having advanced to the conference finals?

The people around me, my family, isn’t sweating it. … I’m not going to lay down. I’m not going to be like, ‘Oh, I quit.’ The funny thing to me is I’m playing for a championship. Do you get to that point where, ‘Oh finally?’ For me, it’s all about winning a championship.

Why should we believe that the Clippers could be NBA champions this season?

To tell you the truth, I don’t need anyone else to believe it except for the guys in our locker room. That’s just the way that I operate. I’m different like that. I don’t care what nobody says. I don’t care what nobody believes. As long as the guys in our locker room every day believe it, then that’s that.

Why do you believe the Clippers can win the title?

Because I am who I am. I don’t care who you put me out on the court with at any given time. I believe we are going to win. I don’t care who we are playing against. What it is. We’re going to win.

What has your time with the Clippers been like?

We’ve had our ups and downs and things like that. I think we have some unfinished business.

What can you say about your possible free agency situation? [Paul can opt out of the final year of his contract, with the Clippers paying $24.2 million this season].

That is the last thing on my mind. My mind right now is about how we’re going to beat Utah.

The 2016 ESPYS began with you, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony on stage together speaking about the need for professional athletes to be involved in pushing for social change. How do you feel about that speech now?

I felt good about it. It was about bringing the awareness, but it’s about doing more and continuing to do things and bringing that awareness.

What social change work have you done since then?

There are a number of things. Everything isn’t always public. My brain is somewhere else right now, so it’s hard to think about all the different things that we did. … There is still a lot of work to be done. I’m always having conversations with people about different things and how to make a lasting impact. For me, everybody thinks about immediate change. But when you’ve got kids and stuff like that, you think about doing something to start the change. And even if we are not around to see it and experience it, I want my kids to know there was an effort made. Hopefully they get a chance to see it.

How different is life for your son and daughter and the generation of black kids now who live in better environments because of the growing number of educated and successful black parents?

For my kids, they have a different reality. Man, we can get so deep into with stuff. I’ve had conversations with my parents all the time, and even with my wife all the time, about my kids and the things they are exposed to that I wasn’t as a kid. There are kids that don’t have food every day. That don’t have clothes on their backs. Oh man, for me as a parent and my wife, we are trying to teach our kids how grateful and appreciative they should be. I’ve always tried to teach them.

Have you taken your kids anywhere to show them how good they have it or to your old neighborhood in Winston-Salem, North Carolina?

All the time. Whenever we do different things in the community, whether it’s giving back, I always have my kids with me. Then you have great friends who talk about these different things or my boys back home even when I go home during the summer. K-Hart [comedian Kevin Hart], who is one of my really good friends, I’ve had conversations with him about how do we teach our kids this and that.

I’m not a perfect parent. I’ve never said I was. I’m learning as I go.

Is Kevin Hart your biggest celebrity friend?

I’m blessed to have a bunch of different guys who are really good friends. Obviously, Melo, ’Bron, D [Wade], K-Hart, Jay [Z]. Jay has been a really big mentor to me, too, on life and anything. Kev was at my wedding. We got close years ago, probably because of his fun nature. We always talk about family and keeping those close to you around.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.