For three decades we’ve covered many amazing basketball characters, but some stand above the rest—not only because of their on-court skills (though those are always relevant), but because of how they influenced and continue to influence basketball culture, and thus influenced SLAM. Meanwhile, SLAM has also changed those players’ lives in various ways, as we’ve documented their careers with classic covers, legendary photos, amazing stories, compelling videos and more. 

We compiled a group of individuals (programming note: 30 entries, not 30 people total) who mean something special to SLAM and to our audience. Read the full list here and order your copy of SLAM 248, where this list was originally published, here.

I called Chris Paul the “Forrest Gump of the post-2005 NBA” in a 2020 cover story about him. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory but figured I should spend some time here to explain that, because it sets the table for the reason CP3 is on this list.

Let’s quickly run through what earned him that distinction. In 2005, he’s drafted by New Orleans, but due to destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, he spends most of his first two NBA seasons playing home games in Oklahoma City. In NOLA, he becomes homies with Lil Wayne, becomes an All-Star, becomes arguably the best PG in the League, becomes a playoff contender. Then he’s traded to the Lakers, un-traded by David Stern (I can’t emphasize enough how big a deal this was on 2011 NBA Twitter), then traded to the Clippers, becoming the heart of Lob City (another massive part of early 2010s NBA Twitter) and a perpetual postseason contender. He becomes president of the NBA Players Association, signs a long-term contract, and then the Donald Sterling racist audio incident happens, and he’s in the middle of that saga. Eventually he’s traded to Houston, then OKC. Then Covid happens, and Chris is in the middle of setting up the Bubble, lowkey a huge national public health story. Then, while in the Bubble, the Jacob Blake shooting takes place, and Chris—literally on national TV before a Thunder-Rockets game is about to tip—is a part of the group that holds the players off the court, and later as PA president, is the head of the group that figured out how to infuse social justice messaging and action into the NBA’s infrastructure. He leads the Thunder on an impressive run in the Bubble, then later joins the Suns, where he leads the team to the Finals, and is on the team when there’s another racist owner situation with Robert Sarver, who later sells the franchise.

A couple years pass and then CP3 joins the Warriors, where he’s currently attempting to help push the Steph-Klay-Dray group toward another ring. Along the way he played an iconic commercial character (Cliff Paul), amassed 22,000+ points and 11,000+ assists, made 12 All-Star teams and the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team and dropped 13 signature sneakers with Jordan Brand. And he was on the banana boat, because of course he was. The guy is everywhere.

“Forrest Gump of the post-2005 NBA”—undeniably accurate. But that’s not alone enough to make it to this list, because this is the “30 Players Who Defined SLAM’s 30 Years,” and if there wasn’t a direct SLAM connection, Chris would just be a guy who was around the NBA universe for a while, paying us no mind. But CP3 paid us plenty mind. He was first featured in SLAM in April 2003 as a high schooler with a one-page PUNKS article in the back of the mag; his brother CJ once told me that his family had that page framed in their house.

He was on his first SLAM cover in 2006, his second in 2008, his third in 2009, his fourth in 2011, his fifth in 2012 (alongside Blake Griffin), and his sixth in 2020. In his prime, he had a fun, uptempo point guard game that a magazine like SLAM was practically created to celebrate, and in his veteran years, he’s been a methodical game manager who almost exclusively plays on teams we cover deep into the playoffs. He was always relevant in the sneaker world—the aforementioned 13 sigs—and he was early in the tunnel fit game, becoming an @LeagueFits regular during our fashion account’s salad days. (The three hoodies he wore in his most recent cover shoot were produced in collaboration with SLAM and LeagueFits and sold on, with the profits going to charity.)

A player who’s seemingly everywhere, finding his way into every crevice of basketball culture and NBA happenings for almost two decades, and a publication that covers every crevice of basketball culture and NBA happenings for exactly three decades. It makes perfect sense that the two would have a great, symbiotic relationship.

So, of course Chris was going to be on this list. The guy is everywhere. 

Photo via Getty Images. Portrait by Kyle Hood.

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