After a recent Clippers victory, the game seemed to continue in their locker room. Four players dribbled around the room, laughing, shouting at the top of their lungs and trying to steal the ball from one another. They were each under 4-feet tall.
When the Clippers win, their locker room resembles a child-care center, with young sons of the players running around dribbling basketballs and playing tag.
Jamal Crawford, who has played for six teams in his 15-year career, says this postgame tradition is unique to the Clippers, and started with Chris Paul. “He’s brought this culture here,” Crawford said. “This is the closest team that I’ve been on. ... It’s just a real family atmosphere.”
Paul grew up with his father around, and he’s made sure that during the hectic NBA season, he’s around for his 5-year-old son, Chris, as much as possible.
“I’m a firm believer that basketball is what we do, and not who we are,” Paul said.
Paul began bringing his son into the locker room as soon as he joined the Clippers in 2011.
The following season, the Clippers acquired Crawford and Matt Barnes, and they followed suit with their children, Crawford with his 4-year-old son, J.J., and Barnes with his 6-year-old twin boys, Carter and Isaiah.
“Doc has been amazing in letting us,” Paul said of Clippers Coach Doc Rivers. “Some coaches may not like that or want [kids in the locker room] ... It gives us some sense of normalcy and makes us not take ourselves too seriously.”
Paul’s relationship with his son stems from the way he was raised.
He was very close to both his grandfather and his father when he was a child — then tragedy struck. During his senior year of high school in North Carolina, his 61-year-old grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, was murdered. Paul made a vow to score 61 points in his next game in honor of Jones. Paul scored his 61st point with less than two minutes remaining, then walked over to his father, and collapsed in his arms crying.
He still depends on his family. “My parents never missed anything as I was a kid growing up, and now I’ll be 30 [next week] ... and they still don’t miss nothing,” Paul said. “It’s something that I find myself sometimes taking for granted because I expect them to be there and stuff because I’m used to it — and I want my kids to be the same way.”
Paul not only brings little Chris into the locker room, he often takes his son to his post-game interviews.
In 2012, Blake Griffin and Paul — with his son on his lap — were on a podium being interviewed after a playoff game. Paul described a grimace Griffin made during the game, then instructed his son to “make the Blake face.” Little Chris dropped his chin, squinted his eyes and scowled. Griffin, along with the entire room, erupted in laughter, and a video of that imitation has more than 2 million views on YouTube.
Crawford said that he’s never seen so many children running around an NBA locker room before. “No, not like this,” Crawford said. “When you have that family atmosphere, I think everybody feels a part of it. Everybody’s kids are here, everybody knows each other’s kids.”
The children add a certain ebullience to the locker room, but they enter only if a celebration is already going on. “One thing that our kids know is that if we lose, they don’t come into the locker room,” Paul said. “They know that. My son, Jamal’s son, Matt’s twins, they [are] like a little crew.”
If it were up to Paul, that crew would soon grow.
Griffin and J.J. Redick each have sons who are under 2 years old, a bit too young for the locker room. Redick brought his son, Knox, to Staples Center in November to watch him play for the first time. The sharp-shooter was so moved to have his son in the arena that he started tearing up during warmups.
“When J.J.'s [son], Knox, gets a little older, and when Blake’s son, Ford, gets a little older, they’ll be in there too,” Paul said.
Rohlin is a Times correspondent.