CP3 says something I’ve never heard any man, let alone a basketball player, say before: “I’ve been fortunate to be short my entire life.” I look puzzled, and he explains. “There’s only one position I’ve ever had to play, and that’s point guard. So I’ve always had to be that leader. And that was my job: you know, to talk.” CP3 is looking me straight in the eye. “I’m a big-time people person, too. Like, I love people. I hate to be by myself.” He repeats the phrase to himself, quieter each time: “I hate to be by myself. I hate to be by myself. I hate to be by myself.”
It’s hard to overstate how famous CP3 is along Tobacco Road. It all goes back to a single game during his senior season at West Forsyth High, when he scored sixty-one points—a tribute to his grandfather who was murdered the week before, at the age of 61. “Papa Chili” opened the first black-owned service station in North Carolina in 1964, at the height of the civil rights movement; Chris and C.J. used to work there as kids, changing oil for customers. Papa Chili was Chris’s favorite person on the planet. One evening in 2002, he was beaten to death in the driveway outside his home. It was Aunt Rhonda’s idea for Chris to try putting up exactly sixty-one points. “I thought it was crazy,” Paul says. Until then, he had never scored more than thirty-nine in a game. Afterward, he was flown to New York and interviewed on Good Morning America. The game ball is still his most cherished trophy.