Monday, June 19, 2023

Books: Chris Paul's Tribute To His Papa, "Sixty-One"

Sixty-One: Life Lessons from Papa, On and Off the Court

By Chris Paul with Michael Wilbon

St. Martin's Press; hardcover, 256 pages; $29.99; available Tuesday, June 20th

Chris Paul is one of the most recognizable stars in the NBA, as he is a 10-time All-Star and led the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals in 2021. The Winston, Salem, North Carolina, native is also a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist. He has served as the President of the National Basketball Players Association since 2013, and off the court, he is a father, husband, entrepreneur, activist, and philanthropist.

Michael Wilbon is one of the most recognizable personalities covering the NBA, as well as the co-host of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption and the co-author of two books with Charles Barkley that became New York Times bestsellers.

Sixty-One is Paul's powerful memoir about fatherhood, community, faith, and work ethic, as well a tribute to his grandfather, Nathaniel "Papa" Jones, who was a pillar of the Winston-Salem community, where he owned and operated the first black-owned service station in North Carolina and helped mold Paul into the man and father he is today. 

Paul was raised by his mother and father in a loving and strong home environment, and the Dreamland Baptist Church played a role in his foundation of faith and family. He reflects on the lessons he learned from coaches such as the late Skip Prosser, his college coach, as well as other professional superstars. Coach Prosser emphasized the value of academics while Paul played at Wake Forest University, and he saw that Paul was more than just a basketball player, that he was a person who loved his community.

Most important to Paul is the significance of family, how his success as a husband and father is a result of family lessons he experienced as a young man, what it means to be a positive light within your community and beyond, and how vital and rewarding it can be to set a proper example for future generations.

Paul was a standout basketball player from a young age, and he signed his letter of intent to play college basketball for Wake Forest. The next day, he received a crushing phone call that informed him that his grandfather was robbed and assaulted and ultimately died from a resulting heart attack on the scene.

Papa was 61 years old, and after his funeral, Paul coped as best he knew at such a young age, by playing basketball for his high school team in their season opener. He was on fire to start, and when he racked up 59 points, he took one more shot and made it. He was fouled and had one free throw coming up. With his team well ahead, Paul's foul shot was an airball, which he did on purpose, before exiting the game. 

Paul accomplished what he set out to do as a tribute to his grandfather, and that was to score 61 points, one for each year of the life he lived.

In this excerpt, Paul writes about what he remembers most about his grandfather: 



Now, listen, I can guarantee you one thing: my Papa had the dirtiest hands you'd ever seen in your life.

The tips of his fingernails all the way down to the ends of his palms were stained with never-ending grease. The discoloration was earned from the years of burying his hands in the grease, oil, and filth that made up a life lived in an auto shop. Most mechanics would wear gloves, but not my granddad. With his bare hands, he would lift whole engines by himself like a gladiator and place them into the cars he fixed, cars that other garages might have written off. My real-life superhero. Papa didn't write off any cars - he could fix anything that was towed, tugged, or pushed into the shop. Those same stained hands were legendary and had as much if not more of an impact on our family and community than anything I can do on a basketball court. Those dirty hands seemed to bother CJ and me a lot more than they bothered Papa. Day in and day out, he'd soak them in a gallon-size bucket of paste-textured yellow soap and scrub them religiously, all the while knowing good and well that that soap wasn't doing a damn thing.

You remember that scene from The Original Kings of Comedy? The one where Cedric the Entertainer is doing the impression of the old guy from the neighborhood who's always talking with a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth? Well, that's my Papa, that is him through and through.

Even if you're too young to remember or don't know that reference, if you're from the South, you definitely know this guy. Every neighborhood had this guy. You could find him out on the block, at your local auto repair shop, or maybe in front of the Pep Boys. You pull up in a car that has a janky engine, and he comes strolling out, wiping his hands with that greasy red rag.

'Can you fix it, sir?' you nervously ask, noticing those filthy engine-fixing hands, thinking how this guy must spend his time resurrecting cars all day. 'Can you?'

'Can I fix it? Boy, I been here thirty years. Been here longer than you been alive. Of course I can fix it. Come on, now I know a carburetor problem when I see it. Bring it 'round here.'

Except it doesn't sound like it at all, because somehow he's speaking in complete sentences while smoking a Winston cigarette at the same time. It sounds something like, 'Canahfixit?' Beenherethirtyoddyearnow. Courseicanfixit. Cmonnah knowadang carburetorproblemwhen ahseeitnow. Brangitinnagrage.'

Cigarette flipping every which way as he's talking, breaking the laws of physics, smoke flying all around his head, ashes falling onto the ground. That was my grandfather. That was Papa to a tee, and I loved every bit of it.

My grandfather, Nathanial Frederick Jones, Papa, or Chilly, as he was called, was always unapologetically himself, and we loved him for that. Why Chilly? Well, he was the sixth and exact middle child of eleven and his mom always used to call him 'Sugar.' One of his brothers, Odell, couldn't pronounce 'Sugar' so he called Papa 'Shilly.' Later when he married my grandma Rachel, she had a hard time pronouncing 'Shilly' so it turned into 'Chilly' and that one stuck.

Papa was born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and was always proud to let you know. At six feet two inches, he wasn't a giant; however, he had a spirit fit for a man that stands taller than ten feet. It showed every time he would walk into a room, giving contagious energy with his magnetic smile, his funny stories - he just had such presence. Everyone knew or wanted to know Papa, and so many people relied on him.

I recall countless occasions where family, friends, or community members rolled up on him like, 'Mr. Jones, I need some help.' and it didn't matter if it involved money for an electric bill, to buy some clothes, to get some food, or whatever they needed to get by - Papa was there. He'd dig those generous hands deep into his pockets, pull out a wad of cash, gladly peeling the person's problem away, bill by bill. Papa didn't ask to be paid back or ask you to listen to a lecture before helping, and he wanted nothing in return. He thought it was a blessing to be a blessing."

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