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Mike Wilbon discusses Chris Paul's new book, Suns fandom and Valley-Oop meme

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
June 15, 2023

Chris Paul’s latest book, Sixty-One: Life Lessons from Papa, On and Off the Court, is set to release on June 20. ESPN analyst and Pardon the Interruption host Mike Wilbon, who helped edit the book, joined the PHNX Suns Podcast to discuss Paul’s writing process, what he learned about CP3, his Phoenix Suns fandom, the Valley-Oop meme with Stephen A. Smith, and a whole lot more.

You can watch the full episode below, and you can pre-order Paul’s book here.

Sixty-One is a powerful and honest memoir written by Paul, with a particular attention to detail that is familiar to anyone who knows the future Hall-of-Famer well. Written in a blunt and honest fashion that is distinctly his voice, the NBA legend shares the stories and life lessons that his grandfather, Nathaniel “Papa” Jones, imparted on him during his upbringing in Winston-Salem.

Wilbon, who’s known Paul since he was a senior in high school, said the Suns star first approached him about getting involved with the project back in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The two met over Zoom a few times to discuss it, and Paul would often divert from the conversation to pull out notebooks filled with meticulous notes about events from his life and the story he wanted to tell.

“He wanted to do this, and he wanted my advice on it, some counsel at first, and that’s just how it started,” Wilbon said. “And he said, ‘Look, you need to be involved in this on a bigger level than that.’ And I’m like, ‘No, ’cause you don’t need anybody!’ because Chris is a great storyteller.”

Although Wilbon helped with the structure and shape of the book as an editor, he emphasized that the story is distinctly Chris Paul’s, told in a way that only he can.

“Chris has been one of my favorite people — not just players, people,” Wilbon said. “A lot of it revolves around basketball, but some of it revolves around his engagement and his ability to tell a good story, which you know a journalist is gonna love. Chris has always been good at that.”

This marks the second time Wilbon has helped edit the book of an NBA legend, since he also worked with Charles Barkley on his New York Times bestselling books, I May Be Wrong But I Doubt It and Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man?.

Wilbon said their understanding of detail, narrative and the audience itself made his job easy, simply service as a “coach” to help get those things out of them. He already knew Paul’s story, but in the process of sitting down and learning everything, one thing stood out as the biggest revelation.

“His curiosity about a lot of things runs deep,” Wilbon said. “His curiosity about his own life and storytelling and what he could get out of this and how it could motivate people and how he could be motivated.”

The story follows Paul’s upbringing in North Carolina, where “Papa” was a pillar in Winston-Salem as one of the lone Black business owners in the area, a fixture in the local church and a positive light in the community who was always there to lend a helping hand. Papa was attacked and died at the age of 61, and in a high school game the day after his funeral, Paul honored him with a 61-point performance.

From the life lessons he learned at Papa’s service station to his own basketball journey to anecdotes about his family to the trauma of his grandfather’s tragic death and how he paid tribute on the court, Paul guides the reader through story after story, shedding light on what makes him the hard worker and dedicated basketball player that he is.

All of that resonated with Wilbon, whose upbringing was similar to Paul’s, since his uncle owned a grocery store in Chicago where he grew up. The result was a revealing look into what makes Paul tick — and why he’s so much more than just a great basketball player.

“I just said, ‘You know, this exercise is the first of many in something else you’re gonna do,'” Wilbon said. “‘I get it, you want to win, I want you to, but this leads somewhere else.’

“Chris’ life is just starting, his full life.”

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