LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Oklahoma City Thunder star Chris Paul dismissed the idea that being stuck on a rebuilding team in OKC next season will be a problem in an interview during Game 3 of the NBA Finals Sunday night.
“I just love to hoop,” Paul said while watching as a virtual fan, talking to the broadcast team of Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. “[Former Thunder coach] Billy Donovan was amazing. My teammates have been amazing.
“So, for me, you call it twilight years, I call it a blessing. Just being able to compete at a high level at 35 years old, [I’m going to] just keep rolling.”
Paul had a terrific season for the Thunder this season, missing only one game and earning a second-team All-NBA honor after being swapped by the Houston Rockets for longtime Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook last summer. Paul and the Thunder then lost a hard-fought seven-game series with Houston, and Donovan and the team parted ways a short time later.
While Paul has two years and $85 million remaining on his contract, another key member of the Thunder this season — Danilo Gallinari — is an unrestricted free agent, casting further doubt on Oklahoma City’s ability to repeat this season’s success if Paul isn’t traded this offseason.
Prior to his time inside the bubble with the Thunder, Paul was intimately involved with its creation as part of his role as president of the National Basketball Players Association.
Paul said he was very happy with how the bubble worked out.
“First and foremost, it’s amazing how everything came together,” he said. “Obviously, I’d rather still be there playing. It is what it is. It’s remarkable, all the different types of stuff guys have done to make everything happen. That’s why I’m honored and privileged to be a part of this great league.”
Paul’s role Sunday as a virtual fan highlighted the one thing that, no matter how well put together the bubble experience was, couldn’t be replicated: the presence of fans in arenas and at games. While there was a difference between playing with pumped-in crowd noise and playing in front of fans, Paul applauded the league for the innovation of having the virtual fans ringing the court — as well as the introduction of friends and family to give some sort of atmosphere to the proceedings as the playoffs have progressed.
“Fans were definitely missed,” Paul said. “It was the energy. Especially with me, playing for the Thunder. Playing in OKC, it’s different, the way that, when you make a shot, you feed off the crowd. But I think the virtual crowd has been amazing. Players being able to walk off the court and see their loved ones and families there, it means a lot.”
Paul also said the “When We All Vote” campaign has made significant progress. After a large portion of NBA players were previously not registered to vote, Paul said that now over 90% of the league’s players have registered — and that half of the 30 teams have 100% registration.
“Strides is an understatement,” Paul said, when asked about the progress the movement has made. “I’m so proud of our guys.
“The job the guys have been doing to be a little bit more educated on the situation, getting people out, recruiting poll workers and things like that … the bubble has been an unbelievable blessing.
“Our players are continuing to do the work. And we’re grateful, and we are going to keep working.”