By Vincent Bonsignore
OKLAHOMA CITY – Blake Griffin isn’t the only Clippers player making a homecoming to Oklahoma City against the Thunder in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Griffin, who was born here, grew into a local legend at Oklahoma Christian High School – where his father was a celebrated coach – and later at the University of Oklahoma.
But he’s not the only Clipper with local roots.
Back in 2005 Chris Paul was just beginning his NBA career when the New Orleans Hornets were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Needing a home while there arena was being rebuilt, the Hornets spent two seasons in Oklahoma City.
It’s where Paul emerged as an NBA star and it’s a city he remains fond of.
“I always say this about Oklahoma, I’ll always have a special place in my heart,” Paul said. “This is where I won rookie of the year, I played my first two years here. This is where I started becoming a professional.”
Those were trying times for the Hornets, as they split time between two cities. Especially for a young players still trying to find his way.
But the connection they made with Oklahoma City was special.
“It was unreal. I had never seen anything like it,” Paul said. “Obviously I was new to the NBA.
But Oklahoma City made the transition easy by welcoming the Hornets with open arms.
“It was fun, I loved it here.” Paul said. “It was exciting, the fans were unreal.”
And the connection was real, as Paul learned when he put on a basketball camp for kids and was astonished by the turnout.
“I had 450 kids,” he said. “It was a great time here. I had a lot of relationships, people I still keep in contact with.”
In the process, the rest of the NBA was turned on to Oklahoma City’s passion for professional basketball. That was an essential component to the city eventually landing the Seattle Supersonics in 2008.
“I definitely think it had something to do with it,” Paul said. “Because everyone around the league got a chance to see that this city could support an NBA franchise.”
Now Paul returns as the enemy. And while Oklahoma City remains near to his heart, that won’t stop him from taking out the Thunder.
“Once they throw the ball up, it’s basketball,” he said.