NIAGARA FALLS — The higher you jump, the harder you dunk, the further your shooting range, the further you go. ¶ Further from the Falls. ¶ That’s the mindset many of the most blessed basketball players born to this impoverished city used to progress in life, to get a good education, to embark on a career. ¶ Paul Harris always saw himself and his city in a different light.
A JAW-DROPPING prodigy who was breaking baskets by the time he was in middle school, Harris was earmarked for the NBA before he left high school. He could’ve gone anywhere in the country to play college basketball. Of all the premier programs courting him, he chose the one closest to home. Had there been Big East banners hanging in a supersized dome at Niagara University, Harris surely would’ve went there.
Now, Paul Harris is the first one to tell you that “Syracuse was too close of a college for Paul Harris.” A three-hour drive wasn’t far enough from Niagara Falls. “I was always in a hurry to go home, like I was missing something,” he says. “It was a distraction.”
Three tumultuous years in Syracuse dimmed his professional prospects. The first major injury of his life, a severely sprained ankle, left him limping around his hometown for the duration of what was supposed to be his rookie year in the pros. He was unable to play basketball, and falling back into old habits.
One year later, “We Are The Champions” is blaring through the arena where Ali and Frazier fought the Thrilla in Manila. Harris is cutting down the nets, standing on a podium at midcourt, holding a championship trophy for the first time since he was in high school. He’s the best all-around player on the best team in the second-oldest professional basketball league in the world.
Those who know him best and love him most knew Harris needed to get far away from the Falls to flourish. Harris knows that now, if he didn’t realize it when he was younger. He’s found happiness and success beyond what was ever available to him at home, or in the American professional leagues. He’s literally halfway around the world. The final horn sounds on the Philippines Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup finals at 8:37 p.m. It’s 8:37 a.m. in Niagara Falls.