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Chris Paul talks business, basketball and branding at North Carolina A&T

The NBA star was part of a master class on entertainment, sports and media

NBA star Chris Paul came to North Carolina A&T State University on Wednesday and gave students one of the most valuable forms of currency — his time.

Paul was on campus to participate in a master class on entertainment, sports and media along with Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse. Before the class, Paul hosted a “fireside chat” that lasted about two hours with a group of 50 students from various majors to discuss financial literacy, personal branding and conducting business.

He began the conversation by asking students what they would do if they had a million dollars. Their answers ranged from paying off their student loans to buying items for loved ones to spoiling themselves.

This led Paul to share a story about his financial journey and the realities of being in the NBA. The average NBA career lasts only three years, he noted, and unforeseen obstacles like injuries can be devastating.

“Money ruins most relationships,” said Paul as he elaborated on the importance of financial literacy and how money affects your life and the lives of the people around you.

Several students said they appreciated his transparency, including his reasoning for not sitting down or standing behind a podium while he was speaking: so that they could feel more confident with him.

“It seems very small, but it almost makes a barrier between me and you,” explained Paul, saying that small things are important as they develop who they are and how they interact with others.

“Be true to yourself,” Paul said in discussing personal branding strategies. “This day in time, you can tell when someone is bluffing. Always be you. I always say that if I don’t support it, I won’t endorse it.”

Students seemed to take Paul’s messages to heart.

“Be true to yourself. This day in time you can tell when someone is bluffing. Always be you. I always say that if I don’t support it, I won’t endorse it.” – Chris Paul

“I learned that when talking in front of an audience, don’t sit down or stand behind a podium. It distances you from the audience in a way,” said Jarod Hamilton, a junior multimedia student. “I appreciate his engagement with us. He didn’t just answer questions and speak as a moderator; he told stories and asked questions while doing it. He made this a conversation, not a forum, which is more intimate and relatable.”

Paul, who played basketball at Wake Forest, said he was the only member of his family who didn’t go to a historically black college or university (HBCU). It was that personal connection to HBCUs, including the fact that his father attended Winston-Salem State, that resulted in bringing the master class to N.C. A&T.

“The event is about engaging an interest. I really want to see how engaging the students can be,” said Paul. “In a perfect world, we’ll start getting some of these five-star athletes to go to HBCUs. That’s the next step. But my connection to HBCUs is personal.

“So I think just continue to raise awareness and make sure that everyone knows and try to make sure people understand that you can get an unbelievable education and experience at HBCUs. My passion, I can’t force it on someone else.”

His passion for HBCUs and business is part of a bigger plan, Paul said.

“When I’m done playing, I would definitely love to own a professional sports team,” Paul said. “But I think that work, as far as education goes, I don’t think that stops. I always say that if I’m only known for being a good point guard, then I did something wrong.”

At the master class, Paul recounted how he attended a Harvard class taught by Elberse in 2017. “I was already in the NBA for about 10 years at the time and I had the opportunity to go and be a student,” he said.

While at Harvard, Paul stayed in a dorm room, did case studies and took the class with his brother. He said Dwyane Wade took the class first, which is what inspired him. He hopes students will share what they learned in Wednesday’s master class with others at N.C. A&T.

“Taking a chance on yourself is the most rewarding action anyone can do for themselves. I plan to apply this logic every day, and I have this event to thank for it.” – student Asha Abdul-Mujeeb

Elberse focused the class on Walt Disney Studios and how Disney produces and markets its movies to ensure that they’re successful. Elberse used a teaching method that was interactive, fast-paced and kept the students engaged.

“We put you on the hot seat, so you’re forced to take a stand and speak up,” said Elberse, explaining the reasoning behind the style of learning used in the master class.

Even though the students discussed the business aspects of the media industry, there were also lessons on leadership, failure and taking risks.

Asha Abdul-Mujeeb, a public relations student, said she walked away from the master class with a new perspective on failure.

“Not allowing the fear of failure to consume you is a reflection of how much self-confidence a person has,” Abdul-Mujeeb said. “Taking a chance on yourself is the most rewarding action anyone can do for themselves. I plan to apply this logic every day, and I have this event to thank for it.”

Patrick Edmond, a mass media production student, said, “I gained insight into real strategies in budgeting for major Hollywood films. I learned an important lesson about being a leader. I have to be willing to fail, but I have to possess the courage to bounce back.”

N.C. A&T hopes to have this master class become the foundation for a course in the College of Business and Economics that would start in the spring semester of 2020.

“It will probably be at least a once-a-year class with the possibility of Chris Paul bringing some of his friends, folks who are actually involved in this business of sports and entertainment, to be speakers in the class,” said Kevin James, dean of the business school. “Or to help cover some cases and maybe sponsor some field trips to some professional sports teams to look at the business side of those teams.”

Leveling the playing field for black students in the business of entertainment, sports and media takes support and someone who understands the importance of giving black people that opportunity. Paul is someone who sees that importance.

“HBCUs do not usually receive that type of program unless it comes from their alums, so for Chris Paul to bring a Harvard lecturer on campus, it was a unique experience,” said Peyton Forte, a mass media production student. “It was very uplifting seeing that he is still so invested in his community despite the obligations of being a professional athlete.”

East is a former Rhoden Fellow (2019-2020) and a senior multimedia journalism student at North Carolina A&T. She is from North Carolina (“the 336” to be specific). She is the creator of On-Screen w/ East Laureen, a visual podcast where she interviews various people within the sports & entertainment industry.