Besides his passion for basketball, NBA superstar Chris Paul is a fierce advocate for HBCUs. Paul, in partnership with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and Boost Mobile, has established the Chris Paul HBCU Challenge which will air on ESPN, reports The Athletic.
Taking place on Saturday and Sunday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Norfolk State, Hampton, Texas Southern and North Carolina A&T are participating in the two-day event.
Paul, who is set to graduate from Winston-Salem State with a degree in interdisciplinary studies this month, spoke about how the event will increase awareness of HBCUs and help the schools reach a broad audience.
"These HBCUs are so grateful to even be a part of this,” Paul said on his Instagram live stream. “A lot of these different universities never get an opportunity to play on these different stages, so that’s what this is about. It’s about giving them an opportunity so they can get out there and showcase.”
Paul said Boost Mobile and the Basketball Hall of Fame are “incredible partners” in his effort vision to spotlight HBCUs. Currently, Boost provides NIL deals to several HBCU athletes. CEO Stephen Stokols said Paul’s vision of empowering athletes is one he's on board with.
“There’s full alignment with what the Boost brand is trying to do, who we’re trying to serve, and who he’s trying to serve as well, so there’s really conceptual alignment on that piece, which really makes it all make sense,” Stokols said. “He’s trying to provide a showcase for these athletes, we’re trying to make sure they get the spotlight as well. So, there’s good conceptual alignment with Chris Paul, his tea, and everyone working on it.”
Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. said that the exposure from the tournament allows him to recruit student-athletes from across the nation.
“I’ve been blessed at Hampton, where we’ve been able to recruit nationwide, but [the showcase] gives a lot of us that don’t have an opportunity,” Joyner said. “Now with social media and guys like Chris and all these games, Boost Mobile and things, we’re able to reach living rooms that we weren’t able to reach before.”
Along with Paul, the NBA has developed thriving relationships with HBCUs on and off the court. The league hosts a showcase during Summer League in Las Vegas. During NBA All-Star Weekend, Grambling will take on Southern as part of the NBA HBCU Classic in February in Salt Lake City. It’ll be the second classic; Morgan State and Howard played last year during All-Star weekend. Back in September, the NBA celebrated the completion of its inaugural HBCU Fellowship Program, in which 60 HBCU graduate and undergraduate students participated in a 10-week summer internship program. In total, 24 HBCUs were represented in the ground-breaking program.
Last November, Paul hosted the Chris Paul HBCU Tip-Off at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. Te tournament featured Morehouse College, Virginia Union, West Virginia State, and Winston-Salem State in the nationally televised two-day event.
According to Paul, technology is one of the ways that HBCUs can recruit the best high school players because they already have thousands of followers on social media. Forging the relationships between HBCUs, technology and up-and-coming players are all a part of Paul’s mission.
“With social media and with all the different awareness and stuff that people got going on, we ask some of these kids to go to some of these HBCUs; they’ll get that notoriety,” Paul said. “They’ll be able to be seen. Obviously, there are a lot of players in the league and all around the country talking about the facilities and what not, trying to get those up to a certain standard or level. It’s all for the opportunity to make sure these guys get the platform and the opportunity to showcase their talent.”
The Chris Paul HBCU Challenge will air on ESPN+ at 4 PM for Saturday’s games and on ESPNU at 6:30 PM for Sunday's games.