CP3 is LSWA's State Headliner of the Year
POSTED: Sunday, February 8, 2009 - 1:01am
UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 11:57pm
NBA All-Star? Check.
Most Valuable Player candidate? Check.
Record-breaking point guard? Check.
Olympic gold-medal winner? Check.
Louisiana Sports Writers Association's 2008 State Headliner of the Year?
Yes, New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul is a little of everything.
But mainly, he's just good, as the state of Louisiana was finally able to see in 2008.
Paul finished runner-up to Kobe Bryant in the NBA MVP voting after averaging 21.1 points and leading the NBA in assists (11.6 a game) and steals (2.71) as the Hornets finished a franchise-best 56-26 and winning the Southwest Division.
For his season and what he meant to his franchise in its return to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, Paul beat out Super Bowl XLII MVP Eli Manning and 2008 NFL Offensive MVP Drew Brees in voting to earn LSWA Headliner of the Year honors.
"No doubt he's most important player in the history of the franchise," says Bob Licht, who has broadcast Hornets game for the past 13 seasons. "We didn't know how great he would become when he was drafted."
The Hornets took Paul in the first round of the 2005 draft, but the Wake Forest product spent his first two seasons with the Hornets in Oklahoma City, where the team relocated following Hurricane Katrina.
As much of their city and the Gulf Coast were rebuilding, so too were the Hornets. By the time they returned to the New Orleans Arena for the 2007-08 season, Paul was ready to take his spot among the NBA elite, and he led his team with him.
The team started strong, winning eight of its first 10 games. Still, attendance lagged. The Hornets drew three crowds of less than 10,000 the first month of the season.
Beginning with the 2008 NBA All-Star game in the New Orleans Arena, in which Paul was selected to play for the first time and finished with 16 points and 14 assists, interest in the Hornets surged, and so did attendance.
Perhaps it was because of the team's 46-15 record from Jan. 1 to the end of the 2007-08 season.
Perhaps it was because of Paul, who played his way into NBA MVP talk.
Perhaps it was because of the way Paul and his teammates embraced the rebuilding city and Gulf Coast.
"I heard time and again from neighbors and season ticket holders, 'We love it when we see (the Hornets) in the community,'" said Licht.
"He's remarkable at how consistent he is, both on and off the court," Hornets general manager Jeff Bower told USA Today last year. "His approach to every activity has been about what he can do for (others), whether it's his teammates or getting involved and lending a hand."
"He's a leader of the team who is unafraid to do things in the community because they're important to the individual," says Licht. "Chris Paul as the face of the franchise never hesitated to do that. We've learned that it's part of his makeup."
The Hornets fell to the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals, but Paul's impact didn't end with the loss.
First, he signed a three-year contract extension with the Hornets with a player's option for a fourth year.
Then, he won a gold medal with the U.S. men's basketball team in Beijing.
And to cap it off, he started the current NBA season in record fashion, setting a record for consecutive games with a steal (108). He set another mark with the most 20-point, 10-assist games (7) to begin a season. And, for good measure, he had the first 30-point, 15-assist, 0-turnover game in the NBA since 1989.
"To me, nobody can touch Paul, he's so well-rounded," says Licht.
But Licht is not talking about Paul's on-court performance.
"He's probably the most normal superstar I've ever encountered," he says. "You can't fake what Chris Paul is. He has it. He walks into a room and has an ability to connect with people. Not every athlete or politician has that."
And that "it" factor has been noticed outside Louisiana. Chris Paul's jersey ranks fourth in sales behind Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James.
"You can't compare him to anybody else in the franchise's history," says Licht. "Everybody's better at what they do because of Chris Paul because of what he does on and off the court."
Previous LSWA State Headliners of the Year:
2007 -- LSU football team
2006 -- New Orleans Saints
2005 -- New Orleans Saints
2004 -- Nick Saban
2003 -- LSU football team
2002 -- New Orleans Hornets
2001 -- David Toms
2000 -- Jim Haslett, Randy Mueller
1999 -- Peyton Manning
2008 LSWA State Headliner of the Year voting:
1. Chris Paul (12 first-place votes) 104 points
2. Eli Manning (8) 81
3. Drew Brees (3) 68
T4. Sylvia Fowles (1) 37
T4. Paul Mainieri (1) 37
6. Peyton Manning (1) 17
T7. Tyrell Fenroy (1) 15
T7. Lake Charles Little League (1) 15
9. Fred Dean 12
10. Derek Dooley 10
Also receiving votes: Richard Thompson, Ed Reed, Kendrick Farris, Byron Scott