PHOENIX – Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul has fashioned a Hall of Fame worthy career largely through what he does for others.
That’s why he ranks third on the NBA’s list of all-time assist leaders with nearly 11,500 dimes.
And now Paul has authored another assist, this time off the court with the release of his second children’s book “Basketball Dreams” earlier this year, and by teaming with Atlanta-based Page Turners Make Great Learners (PTMGL) to motivate young readers from underprivileged backgrounds.
It is the 12-time NBA All-Star’s second children’s book and follows “Long Shot,” which was published 14 years ago. Both books tell the story of his love of basketball, with the newest edition discussing his relationship with his grandfather that helped him solidify his passion for the game.
To promote his new book, Paul partnered with PTMGL, which encourages children to read and build critical thinking skills, in a virtual read-along of “Basketball Dreams” streamed to hundreds of classrooms.
“That’s been a lot of fun,” Paul said. “I’ve gotten up a couple of times. I did a virtual reading one morning in 200 classrooms around the country with a bunch of different kids.”
Now in his 18th season, Paul is accustomed to being recognized for his game on the court, but seeing people with his book and not just wearing his jersey, is more rewarding. And not all of his presentations have been virtual read-along sessions.
“I got a chance to go over to a school (recently) with Phoenix Suns Charities,” Paul said. “It’s been really cool.”
Paul also met recently with students from an Atlanta elementary school during a Suns road trip. The experiences have been enriching for Paul but they have meant just as much to others, including Fefe Handy, who founded PTMGL.
She emphasized the importance of keeping kids motivated to read and said read-alongs like the one Paul took part in with the children leave a lasting impression.
When Handy started PTMGL more than 20 years ago, the initial challenge was teaching the children that reading isn’t a chore but an opportunity to connect with a piece of literature.
However, she found it difficult because there weren’t books like Paul’s that allowed her students to see a person of color on the cover and within the pages, which can help them envision themselves in a similar story and kindle their imagination.
“Once upon a time, I couldn’t see myself on the bookshelves. I couldn’t,” Handy said. “I didn’t find any books that resonated with me, that I could connect to, that talked about the experiences that happen in my neighborhood and my community.
“The difference between 20 years ago and today is that a lot of the stories resonate with students and people of color. You didn’t see a whole lot of those books 20 years ago. And so now, stories like that are being written, and there are stories that have yet to be to be written, where people are making discoveries about themselves or the things around them.”
PTMGL is based in Georgia but Handy hopes it will grow and have a nationwide impact in the future. It is aimed at working with children from lower-income families who aren’t used to having stories written from their perspective.
Books like the ones Paul has written are a step in the right direction.
Handy works with many students from Title One schools, which serve children from low-income families that, she pointed out, can’t simply walk into a Barnes and Noble bookstore on a regular basis. Many modern authors are beginning to write stories that better reflect the experiences of underprivileged kids, allowing them to connect with stories that always seemed so distant.
Luckily, more authors like Paul are reaching out to Handy to participate in similar virtual reading events to help children envision their life within the pages. More than 1,000 kids attended his reading event via Zoom.
It was Paul’s first virtual read-along, and despite having experienced the pressure of playing in the NBA Finals, the experience still made him nervous.
However, the butterflies settled once Paul began to interact with the students. The Suns’ veteran playmaker enjoyed the experience so much that he and Handy worked together again, bringing a classroom of children to a Feb. 8th game between the Suns and Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Paul invited children from West Manor Elementary School to what was, for most, their first NBA basketball game. After the game, the kids met with the Phoenix star face-to-face.
“They were super duper excited. Are you kidding me?” Handy said. “Imagine being in the State Farm Arena, having the experience of watching the Hawks play the Phoenix Suns, and then you wait around until the crowd leaves to have an intimate conversation with Chris after the game courtside…
“For the kids to ask him questions and just be able to connect with him as a person, it was a wonderful experience.”
Paul talked with the kids for about 20 minutes, and afterward he left each child an Atlanta Hawks jersey – and a memory that will last a lifetime.
Paul, who played at Wake Forest, related to the kids his 20-year journey after he left Wake to earn a degree from Winston-Salem State University and told them how important education is in his life. The 37-year-old shared stories about his upbringing and how his parents taught him the importance of learning at a young age.
“I would have never got the opportunity to play in the NBA if I didn’t take care of my schoolwork,” Paul told the West Manor students. “There might have been a lot of people better than me in sports and basketball, but I gave myself a chance by doing my schoolwork… That’s how you’re going to get a chance.”
That opportunity has been elusive for many of the children in attendance because of their background. However, Paul spoke about controlling the things that are controllable, like schoolwork, to give themselves a chance to succeed.
Handy’s top priority is keeping the kids motivated and active in reading. They’re more likely to listen when someone like Paul delivers the message.
Handy said students are used to their teachers pushing them to open a book and read. However, when an NBA superstar illustrates the importance of reading, their young ears perk up. A voice such as Paul’s is a game-changer to the children, helping them connect classroom core values to the real world.
PTMGL is trying to change the trajectory of these young lives to steer more towards academics and understand how essential reading is for developing brains. Handy emphasized that some children are born into “unimaginable circumstances” and aren’t blessed with a future that is clear to them.
Paul is just one of the 100 authors who partnered with PTMGL, including “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” author Jeff Kinney.
Handy believes that children who hear famous authors and celebrities read their works open their young eyes and minds to what is possible.
That is the whole point to Handy.
It allows kids in difficult circumstances to dream through the pages of a novel, and once they understand that these stories are all around them, they can become the authors of their own life.