During the 2019 NBA Finals, Kyle Lowry received a text message.
It was from then-Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, one of a multitude of players who reached out to Lowry to offer him support and words of wisdom. But there was something different embedded in the cadence of Paul’s message that stood out: Desperation.
“I remember CP hit me up and was like, ‘Yo, you gotta do this,’ during the series,” Lowry recalled on an episode of the LightHarted podcast (hosted by New Orleans Pelicans guard Josh Hart) before the 2019-20 season. “And I’m like, ‘All right, I got you, bro.’ It was like he wanted me to get it so bad and that’s just how everyone understood, ‘Kyle put a lot of work in,’ and I would feel the same way about him and I would feel the same way about you.”
True to his word, Lowry and the Toronto Raptors improbably won the series against the dynastic Golden State Warriors, with Lowry himself delivering a 26-point, 10-assist masterpiece in Game 6 to close things out in the final game ever played at Oracle Arena.
For Paul, the moment had to contain some level of catharsis.
Here was Lowry, a 6’0” (in shoes), ground-bound guard whose game, while rarely flashy or awe-inducing, had consistently resulted in winning basketball for the majority of his career, finally atop the NBA mountain.
The notion that players like Lowry can’t win at the highest level while encompassing a prominent team role (let alone as the focal point) is an ancient one. Guards of his ilk are too small, too easily defended by opponents whose sheer size disrupts their airspace. They can’t simply barrel through defences like LeBron James or see overtop of them from every angle like Magic Johnson.
And while there is some truth to that hoary belief, there are also examples like Lowry, who managed to break through with thunderous gusto and forge his own legacy outside of any pre-existing narratives.
Now, Paul has the chance to do the same.
He’s off to a hot start, averaging 27.5 points, 8.5 assists and four rebounds on a blistering 66.7 true shooting percentage through two Finals games against the Milwaukee Bucks. And though Paul has nearly always been the centrepiece of his teams, and though he’s always been gaudier than Lowry, the surefire future Hall of Famer is taking hold of his destiny through similar means to his Raptors counterpart.
Sure, the two point guards have their own, trademark specialties (think Paul’s elbow jumper and Lowry’s proclivity for charges), but the cores of their respective games are fuelled by the same, mirror-image personality. Turn on any Raptors or Phoenix Suns game at random and it’ll immediately become apparent—the unrelenting, borderline maniacal obsession over winning any and all possessions.
Ever the grifters, one moment they’ll be seen attempting to draw extra contact in order to find their way to the foul line, the next they’ll be compulsively running an end-of-quarter two-for-one to perfection. In between, they’ll be barking orders at teammates or jawing at referees, scrapping for every competitive advantage.
This is the method to achieve complete control for players like Paul and Lowry. This is the method to win—by operating as maestros, conducting their own individual musics.
But the similitudes don’t end there—even when it comes to injuries, the two have shared an eerily homogenous career arc. Each of them have had numerous playoff runs impacted or utterly derailed by ill-timed afflictions. The most famous for Paul is arguably the strained hamstring he suffered in 2018, when his Houston Rockets were up 3-2 on the Kevin Durant-led Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and ultimately lost the series. As for Lowry, one of his most dominant seasons in a Raptors uniform sputtered out in the 2016 post-season due to a bum elbow.
Even now, during what may become a career-defining series of games for him, Paul is dealing with a surfeit of minor injuries, including partially-torn ligaments in his right hand. While in the 2019 Finals, Lowry, too, dealt with damaged ligaments, albeit in his left thumb.
Both Paul and Lowry have long recognized their unique link and actively acted upon it. The latter has even jokingly referred to their relationship as “frenemies,” denoting their battles on the hardwood but also instances such as when Paul suggested Lowry take his place at the 2016 Olympics when he opted not to compete.
Not only do the two guards evidently revere one another, but they have a thorough understanding of what each other’s success represents. Triumph for one or the other means something greater than stats or hardware—it means a procurement of respect of the highest variety. It means an admittance that their modus operandi works, and works just as well as anyone else’s.
So, now, in the 2021 playoffs, it’s Paul receiving messages from Lowry.
“I’ve been talking to Kyle Lowry a lot,” Paul told reporters back in the first round when his Suns were pitted against the Los Angeles Lakers. The conversation, Paul revealed, was largely about a neck and shoulder stinger that he’d suffered—an injury Lowry himself had gone through (and played through) previously.
It would seem fair to imagine that Lowry, now watching Paul up 2-0 in The Finals, is feeling that same sense of desperation that his peer texted him with in 2019.
Yo, you gotta do this.
After all, a championship run for Paul won’t merely impact his own individual legacy—it will add to Lowry’s, too, and any small guard subject to the fires of archaic narrative.