by Lang Whitaker / @langwhitaker

About a year ago, the fine folks at Brand Jordan invited a mess of editors and writers out to a launch event for the Jordan 2012. We assembled in New Jersey at an airplane hangar, where a full-size basketball court had been put together complete with breakaway-rimmed glass backboards. (In case I dunked.)

To insure we gave the shoes a thorough workout, the Jordan folks brought in Idan Ravin, the trainer known as The Hoops Whisperer (also known as a SLAM columnist) who works with all the best athletes in the NBA. For about an hour, Idan put us through a terrifying workout, doing all sorts of stretches, sprints and jumps. After about 45 minutes, Idan broke out a sack of tennis balls, and he introduced us to a drill that involved having your partner roll a ball away from you, and then you had to basically fetch the ball.

This was a real workout, and these were real drills. By this point I was seriously sucking wind, and it was taking all of my will not to go over to the corner of the court and vomit into a trash can. And so just as I swallowed back my breakfast, my partner rolled a ball through my legs, and I spun and, admittedly half-heartedly, ran after the ball. Idan spotted me and, perhaps sensing a teaching moment, trotted over and got in my ear to try and help fire me up.

“Come on, Lang,” he said. “Get after it. You can do this. This is Chris Paul’s favorite drill.”

I grabbed my hamstrings and, lost in that moment, thought to myself, “Man, I hate Chris Paul.”

I’m pretty sure I’m not the first person on a basketball court to feel enmity toward Chris Paul; if anybody hates Chris, it’s because dude makes a habit out of destroying his opposition. Way, way, way back in 2008, Ryne Nelson and I got into a fake argument in the pages of SLAM and (right here on SLAMonline) about which point guard was better, Deron Williams or Chris Paul. Not long after that issue dropped, Paul would go on that season to lead the NBA in assists per game (11) and steals per game (2.8). But the Hornets lost in the first round of the Playoffs, to Denver, and a year later the Hornets pink-slipped Byron Scott, and then Paul got injured and missed half the season, and then guys like Derrick Rose and John Wall started coming up, and pretty quickly, Chris Paul’s name started to slip from the point guard convo.

The injury and playing in New Orleans seemed to keep Chris out of spotlight. It really wasn’t until almost a year later, when CP3 hung 33, 14, 7 and 4 on the Lakers in L.A. to open the 2011 Playoffs, that everyone kind of remembered, “Oh, yeah, that guy’s pretty good.”

He can score, he has a dead-eye mid-range game, he’s an incredible defender (he’s led the NBA in steals in four of his seven seasons), he commands respect and demands respect (ask Pau Gasol), and nobody in the NBA is better at running a team. I’ve been around the NBA for almost a dozen years now, and CP3 is one of my favorite people I’ve covered. He’s a solid guy, who values family and relationships, who looks you in the eye when he speaks to you. He’s the kind of guy who, if he wants it, could have a career in politics when he retires. Then again, retirement is a ways away: CP3 is still three years shy of 30.

That stuff aside, what is so impressive to me about Chris Paul is that he excels against the best players in the world without being the best athlete at his position. Sure, he’s an elite athlete, but he’s not transcendent like LeBron or even a Westbrook. Chris once told me that he knows he’s not the fastest guy in the NBA, but that what he does have is quickness, so he tries to take advantage of that quickness by stopping and starting, and changing speeds when defenders least expect it.

He is not tall, he is not unbelievably strong, but what really sets him apart is that more than anything else, and maybe more than anyone else, he just hates to lose. And so he works his ass off to make the most of what he has. Chris Paul goes that extra mile, way past where the rest of us stop to go puke in the corner. He’s been an All-Star, he’s a two-time Gold medalist, he even made people believe in the Clippers. The only thing left is a ring.

And knowing CP3, when he puts his mind to, there’s nothing he can’t do.

Where should Chris Paul rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14
44 Anthony Davis Hornets PF 13
43 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 12
42 Al Horford Hawks C 7
41 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 10
40 Danny Granger Pacers SF 6
39 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 11
38 John Wall Wizards PG 9
37 Monta Ellis Bucks SG 8
36 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 10
35 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 6
34 Tyson Chandler Knicks C 5
33 Eric Gordon Hornets SG 7
32 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 9
31 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 6
30 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 8
29 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 4
28 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 3
27 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 5
26 Andre Iguodala Nuggets SG 5
25 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 4
24 Josh Smith Hawks PF 7
23 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 8
22 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
21 Steve Nash Lakers PG 7
20 James Harden Thunder SG 3
19 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 6
18 Chris Bosh Heat PF 5
17 Kyrie Irving Cavs PG 6
16 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 4
15 Tony Parker Spurs PG 5
14 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 3
13 Andrew Bynum Sixers C 2
12 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 2
11 Kevin Love TWolves PF 1
10 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 3
9 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 4
8 Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 3
7 Deron Williams Nets PG 2
6 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 2
5 Dwight Howard Lakers C 1
4 Kobe Bryant Lakers SG 1
3 Chris Paul Clippers PG 1

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.