From the beginning, Chris Paul was at the very center of the wildest year in NBA history. On March 11, 2020, the then Oklahoma City Thunder point guard was on court when, just minutes before tip-off, his team’s game against the Utah Jazz was postponed: Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for coronavirus. Later that night, the NBA would suspend its season. Back at his condo after being held in the locker room for an hour, Paul called movie producer Brian Grazer to tell him that he thought they might have the makings of an interesting documentary.
It only got more interesting. Over the next few months, the NBA tried to find a solution that would allow the season to resume. As the President of the NBA Player’s Association (NBPA), the league’s labor union, Paul was at the center of those discussions too. He remained at the center as the idea for the NBA bubble was hatched, and as the players tried to figure out how to best respond to the renewed calls for social and racial justice after the killing of George Floyd. After the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to take the court for their playoff game to protest the shooting of Blake, there again was Paul, leading a league-wide discussion among players and coaches in the bubble about what action to take.
All of that eventually made it into the documentary Paul first thought of on that night last March. “The Day Sports Stood Still,” made through Paul’s production company Oh Dip!!! Productions, releases March 24 on HBO. GQ spoke with Paul, who now plays for the Phoenix Suns, about what he remembers and what he’ll take away from that first night, the bubble, and everything that followed.
GQ: You wrote “Pray for Wuhan” on your shoes during a game in mid-February. What made you do that?
Chris Paul: I’m glad you asked that. So a guy named Pooh Jeter, a good friend of mine, used to play in the NBA and used to play in China. The game before  All-Star [Weekend], we were playing in New Orleans. [Jeter] send me a text, yo, C, I think you should write something for Wuhan on your shoes. All those people are really going through a tough time. What’s so surreal about it is that, at the time, you know what’s going on, but you don’t expect it to get here.
And then, about a month later, your game against the Jazz gets postponed. What did you know about coronavirus heading into that game?
I think a lot of people forget this, but working in the union with [NBPA Executive Director] Michele Roberts and [NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver, maybe a week or two weeks before that [Jazz game], they told us no more handshaking. The league sent memos to the team saying we can’t give five to each other, no autograph signing, all this different type of stuff.
I was on the training table before the game that night, and Michele had told me, “Chris, we pretty much came to a conclusion after this game tonight, we’re going to start playing games with no fans.” And then when everything happened [with the game being postponed], it was scary. It was really scary because no one knew how contagious it was, no one knew what happens if you get it.
What were you thinking as you headed to the locker room?
What’s going on, first and foremost? Earlier in the season, our team was at a movie premiere and there was an active shooter. So I didn’t know what was going on. And so once we got back to the locker room, I called Michele Roberts and she had no clue. Then I think I called home, called my wife. She was like, “What’re you doing in the locker room? Why hasn’t the game started?”