Chris Paul on Championing Women's Basketball, Gender Equality: Women Can 'Do Any and Everything'

The 12-time NBA All-Star spoke with PEOPLE this week about gender equality and his efforts to passionately advocate for women's rights — as well as the roots of his enthusiasm

Chris Paul
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage

For Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul, supporting his fellow professional athletes — male and female — comes naturally.

In an interview with PEOPLE on Tuesday, the 36-year-old NBA center speaks about gender equality and his efforts to passionately advocate for women's rights — as well as the roots of his enthusiasm.

Over the years, Paul has used his platform to help highlight and support women's basketball, from the youth game to the WNBA, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2021. Paul also works with the Carolina Flames, a women's AAU team out of North Carolina.

When asked about the source of his passion, Paul points to the many women that "literally run my life," from agents and assistants to his mom, his wife Jada Paul, and his daughter Camryn, 9.

"Women are strong enough themselves to do any and everything," the NBA star adds.

Chris Paul
Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty

A special honor and a special bond

In February, Paul was named the first winner of the WNBA's new Kobe and Gigi Bryant Advocacy Award. (Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna "Gigi" Bryant were killed in a January 2020 helicopter crash.)

The 12-time All-Star earned the honor "for his significant contributions to the advancement of girls' and women's basketball, and advocacy for the WNBA," according to a press release from the organization.

Paul tells PEOPLE it was an "extremely emotional" experience for him, having been close with Kobe before he died.

"Kobe was always a big brother to me and to see his passion for, not the game, but the women's game, and to see how he and Gigi had gotten, and he had that same passion and dedication for her growth in the game, her and her team and those young ladies ad he had for his own game," Paul says.

"And I was paying attention," he continues. "Like, I was watching and I was thinking to myself, 'Man, I've competed against this guy day in and day out and I know … who he fundamentally is — I know his competitive fire and everything that pushes and drives him.' But I had never seen him happier than in those moments when he was with Gigi and with her team."

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One of Paul's fondest memories of Kobe involved a tweet shared by the Lakers legend nine years ago in Feb. 2013. Kobe's tweet featured a photo of Paul's son Chris, now 12, and Gigi.

The tweet, which poked fun at Paul's failed trade to the Lakers, read: "At least lil @CP3 and baby Mamba can play together NBA can't veto this one Ha!"

"I'll never forget that," Paul tells PEOPLE.

Family matters

Now, Paul's daughter Camryn is big into basketball — though her interest initially came as a surprise to the pro.

Prior to 2021, Paul says Camryn was seemingly uninterested in basketball. But one night, shortly before the 2021 playoffs began, Paul received a call from his wife, who informed him of their daughter's desire to try the sport.

At first, Paul tells PEOPLE that he was in disbelief — but thrilled as well.

"So, of course, me as a dad, I'm excited because I never forced any of this stuff on my kids," Paul recalls. "But I talked to my daughter and I said, 'Cam, do you want daddy to teach you anything about basketball?' And she said, 'No thank you! I'm fine.' "

Not only is she a big fan of the game, but she's learning quickly, too.

"During the playoffs last year, she called me on FaceTime one day in the morning, she had a basketball in the house, and she was trying to teach herself to dribble between her legs," Paul tells PEOPLE. "And she's so persistent — I was sort of sitting there coaching her, telling her what to do. Three hours later, she sent me a video, and she could do it!"

For Paul, it was exciting to see his daughter "excited about something." It was also an example of how Paul looks to support the women in his life.

Chris Paul
Allen Berezovsky/Getty

"I think that's why I'm blessed to have the strong mother I was raised by, but then also have an amazing wife and have the opportunity to raise two amazing kids," Paul says, adding that he "wouldn't rather have it any other way."

"You get a chance to see what it's like and you understand why it's important to make sure my daughter is appreciated and that she understands that she's not less than," he adds.

For the pros

Paul has played with the Suns, the Arizona NBA franchise affiliated with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, since 2020. This is the first time in Paul's 17-year NBA career that he has played on a team with a WNBA affiliate — and he loves it.

"We have a practice facility that we share with the Phoenix Mercury and I've had the best time — like even today … me and Diana Taurasi worked out next to each other at the time," he tells PEOPLE.

Paul, whose goal is to one day be the governor of an NBA and WNBA team, thinks "Phoenix has done it right" by having the two teams under the same umbrella, noting the bond it has encouraged between the franchises.

"I remember high school, the women's game would be right before our game, but we were all one big family," Paul tells PEOPLE. "And that's the same thing that we have here [in Phoenix]. Like when our WNBA team has a game, all of us be talking like, 'Let's got to the game! Let's go to the game!' So I love that we support each other and this is the first time I've had that."

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns looks on and smiles during the game against the Utah Jazz on January 24, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty

Additionally, Paul claims that he has never gone an NBA season without attending a WNBA game.

"A lot of times, their seasons going on during our offseason, but I don't care what's going on or what needs to happen, I'm going to go to a game," he says.

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Earlier in his NBA career, Paul spent eight seasons as president of the league's players' union. During that time, he became close with Los Angeles Sparks veteran and WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike, with whom he had conversations about how both leagues can grow their games.

Now, Paul hopes the women's game continues to blossom and that "the women continue to voice what changes they like to their game."

"I'm just a fan, a supporter," he says.

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