ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL: Clippers teammates DeAndre Jordan (from left), Jamal Crawford, Blake Griffin and Paul during a game against the Indiana Pacers
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Leadership is natural for Chris, 28, and that was evident to his fellow players when he was elected president of the National Basketball Players Association in August 2013. Chris was entrusted with the challenge of righting a union that was reeling from scandal. But that is only one of his off-court endeavors. He spends considerable time overseeing his formidable foundation, which benefits programs and charities in the U.S. and internationally.

That’s a lot of weight to carry for someone only 6 feet tall, so short by NBA standards that Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol, who is a foot taller, once patted him on the head during a game. But Chris’ reputation is towering throughout the league. In NBA.com’s annual survey of general managers before the current season, Chris was voted the league’s best point guard, best passer, the player with the best basketball IQ and third best in leadership.

AN ALL-STAR ON AND OFF THE COURT: Paul in action against the New York Knicks
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“The thing about a leader is they have to be not afraid — not afraid of success and not afraid of failure,” says Chris, the fourth overall selection in the 2005 draft by the New Orleans Hornets and the 2005-06 Rookie of the Year. “When you’re the leader, a lot of times you get the credit when you’re up but you also get the blame when you’re down.”

Either way, Chris never shies away from the leadership role, as many of his teammates can attest. “I’m sure at times guys are like, ‘Man, Chris is talking again. We’re not listening,’ ” Chris says with a laugh.

But listen they do. In fact, Chris has all of Los Angeles paying attention to the Clippers, who have always lagged far behind the illustrious Lakers franchise that boasts 16 NBA championships. Even if the Clippers win a title, L.A. will likely always belong to the Lakers, because they are so established and have had so many legendary players. But thanks to Chris, the Clippers are at least respected on the court. They are no longer a joke.

Chris almost became a Laker in 2011 when the Hornets traded him to the Lakers in a deal involving several other players. Lakers fans were ecstatic at the prospect of pairing Chris with the indomitable Kobe Bryant in the backcourt. But at the time, the league owned the financially troubled Hornets, and NBA Commissioner David Stern decided the team was not receiving enough in return for Chris, so he disallowed the trade. The following week, the Clippers made the blockbuster deal that put Chris on the same team as Blake Griffin, the 2010-11 T-Mobile Rookie of the Year, and rising center DeAndre Jordan. Chris’ looping, pinpoint passes that the high-flying Griffin and Jordan catch above the rim and slam through the hoop have led to the christening of the Clippers as “Lob City.”

For Chris, not going to the more prestigious Lakers wasn’t a big deal. “I was excited about coming to the Clippers,” he says, comparing it to his decision to play collegiately for Wake Forest rather than for one of North Carolina’s basketball powerhouses like the University of North Carolina or Duke.