Trying to Find That Title Mojo

Sometimes, life just doesn't seem fair. Maybe you didn't get that dream job you coveted. Maybe your acquaintance has all the luck with the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that's your orientation). Maybe your horse just couldn't make it to the finish line in first (something a lot of Kentucky Derby bettors must have felt last weekend). And, just maybe, a little piece of that trashed luck was set up due to a factor beyond your control.

Not all great athletes get their hands on the thing they want most — that league's end-of-season trophy — the ring that would slide on their finger ... that title of "champion." There are Hall of Fame inductees in all teams sports that never reached the peak, but it seems like those enshrined in Springfield stick out more than any of their contemporaries. Due to the sheer number of players on the court at any given moment, NBA athletes get more scrutiny for how they can manipulate the action or get manipulated via their opposition.

If you're a legendary offensive lineman, starting pitcher, or right winger, there are other positions that need to step up for the ultimate success to be a possibility. In the Association, you're usually exposed based on said influence. Guys with the names Elgin Baylor, George Gervin, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Dominique Wilkins, Steve Nash, Karl Malone, John Stockton, and more never realized that dream of holding the Larry O'Brien trophy. They couldn't defeat the Russells, Magics, Birds, Jordans, Duncans, or LeBrons standing in their way. Is another name being written onto that list?

Chris Paul exudes NBA HOFer. He stands third all-time for most assists in league history with 10,977 dimes. His 2,453 steals ranks fourth on the all-time list. He has over 20,000 points (top 50) and more than 1,150 games under his belt (top 65). The 12-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA selection also made another prestigious list as a member of the 75th anniversary team. His spot in Springfield is all but cemented, despite his postseason history.

Sunday night's stunning loss is just the latest playoff disappointment for the man branded as "The Point God." Paul's Phoenix Suns boasted the Association's top record, meaning home court advantage as long as they were alive. In Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals, Dallas delivered haymakers quickly, frequently, and consistently. Only a few minutes into the 1st quarter, the deficit was double digits. At its worst, the gap was well north of 40. By the end, Phoenix was sent packing after a contest where they never led. Again, this was just the latest blow.

While a member of the Clippers, Paul was privy to multiple blown 2-game leads (at either 2-0 or 3-1 up). There have also been injuries, most notably the hamstring from Game 6 of the 2018 Conference Finals. But all of this bad juju may have been started by something totally out of Paul's control.

As detailed (fantastically) by the Los Angeles Times, in 2011, Paul looked to be on his way out of the New Orleans franchise that drafted him back in 2005. A three-team trade was on the table for the point guard to head out of the Bayou and land on the Pacific Coast. In the end, Paul would settle with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. It would keep that Purple & Gold train rolling after winning two recent championships. At that time, though, the league had ownership/stewardship of the New Orleans Hornets while the search was on for a new true owner of the franchise. Then-commissioner David Stern would eventually deny the proposed trade. No matter the reasoning for the denial, I feel this move effected Paul's championship legacy.

The Lakers needed a retool after Bryant's retirement, but still got back to win a title since that fateful almost-trade. The Clippers, Paul's ultimate landing spot in 2011, had exciting teams. However, the organization never shook the cloak of "never beens," falling short of the Conference Finals series, let alone the NBA Finals. Paul finally experienced his first NBA title run last season. He witnessed yet another blown 2-0 lead as his Suns eventually fell to Milwaukee.

Chris Paul is 37 now. That means time is ticking down on the playing career and the chances to get a grasp around the biggest trophy in professional basketball. He very well may join the list of greats that couldn't reach that title summit. But what if the mountain had been altered by the trade that never was? One could only imagine what Mamba Mentality might have done for Paul's trophy room.

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