Back in 2003 at the Jordan Capital Classic, every last person in the MCI Center – including a just-retired Michael Jordan – focused their gaze on a young upstart by the name of LeBron James. James didn’t disappoint, leading all scorers with 34 points, albeit in a losing effort.
But if you could tear your eyes away from the boy who would be King, the point guard of the squad that took down Team LeBron was also a sight to behold, an efficient yet insuppressible whirling dervish on both ends of the court. For Chris Paul, the conclusion of his high-school career absolutely seemed like the start of something big – in more ways than one.
“When Jordan talked to us,” Paul told me after the game that night, “I was standing there mouth open, eyes big. I shook his hand and talked to him and told him that I was from North Carolina. It was unreal, and something that I’ll never, ever forget.”
His idol wouldn’t forget either: Following Paul’s NBA Rookie of the Year campaign, he signed on as a member of Team Jordan. Paul has since rewarded MJ’s faith, blossoming into the best and most popular point guard of his generation, with seven All-Star Games, four First-Team All-NBA nods and eight signature sneakers under his belt.
Could CP3 possibly have imagined the doors his talents would open for him?
“No. Definitely not,” Paul said in a roundtable discussion during Wednesday’s unveiling of the Jordan CP3.VIII, which drops on Nov. 1. “I think the thing is, seeing different people wearing them. I seriously never get used to watching TV and seeing someone play a game with the shoes on, or people tagging you on Instagram, showing you the shoes that they made on iD.
“And for me, I genuinely love this — like, I love sneakers.”
Instagram has shown us many players with enviable sneaker collections, but CP3 is on a completely different and immersive level. For the better part of a half hour, Paul waxed poetic about all things footwear — the culture, his Nike iD addiction, Jordan’s influence, Air Jordans in general, his own signature line in particular – while demonstrating passion and knowledge that rival literally anyone who fancies themselves a sneaker aficionado.
“I’ve told so many different stories through my shoes,” Paul said, and he knows them all by heart. From paying tribute to his late college coach Skip Prosser on the 1’s, to the Chevron-esque logo hidden somewhere on each pair to honor his grandfather’s legacy, all the way to an extended family tree on the tongue of the VIII’s, Paul remembers every unique detail from each of his sneakers, and they give him a special boost before he hits the court.
“Every time I do it,” CP3 mused about lacing up his sneakers, “it makes me think about my family.”
Much like Jordan does, Paul gets involved with every aspect of the creative development of his sneaker, fine-tuning both form and function with designer Justin Taylor. The CP3.VIII is lower to the ground for an enhanced court feel, which makes it better equipped to handle the wear and tear he puts on his body on both ends of the court. Since he wears a different pair every game, CP3 also cited a need for sneakers that are easy to break in. The VIII kept its predecessor’s enhanced traction and lockdown capabilities, not to mention its Podulite cushioning to keep it ultra-lightweight.
“It’s just amazing to see the evolution of it,” Paul said. “Year by year, you always try to tweak some of the technology, bring something new. But at the same time, there’s usually always something that made the shoe (special), and why you liked the shoe, and I always try to take that to the next one.”
For someone as competitive as Paul, having a signature line made to his precise specifications offers something of a mental edge. CP3 cited Jordan endeavoring to wear his “hottest or craziest shoe” during the playoffs, so that his opponents might dwell on his sneakers for even a second, diverting their focus from the game. Likewise, Paul breeds confidence from knowing the CP3 line is designed exactly for his needs, singling out an enhanced traction pattern on the inside of the forefoot.
“A lot of times, I say it’s almost cheating, because my shoes are made for me,” Paul said. “When I go forward — and one of my favorite moves is to stop and pull back into a crossover — I usually come up on the inside of my right toe.
“And I may just be tricking myself, but I feel like nine times out of 10, I’m always going to get enough separation to get away from my defender because … his shoe’s not made for him. (laughs) Depending on who it is. And I feel like he’s going to keep sliding just enough for me to get my shot off.”
About an hour later, we got an up-close look at the result of Paul’s attention to detail, as the assembled sneaker media took the court in a nearby gym to give the CP3.VIII a test drive.
True to Paul’s words, the shoes were light and had great traction. I can’t say they made me play anything like CP3, but I did hit a very rare (for me) three-pointer in a key spot; I’m compelled to invoke the admittedly tired cliché that it’s gotta be the shoes.
The highlight of the wear-test came in my fourth pickup game, when CP3 came out of nowhere to assume point guard duties for my squad. Having never played with a professional basketball player, much less the best point guard in the NBA, my strategy was to stay the hell out of his way while he stole the ball and drained three-pointers. I took — and missed — one baseline jumper off a sweet feed from Paul, but I did successfully hand him the ball before his game-winning layup.
Even playing at a tiny fraction of his full ability against a bunch of bloggers wearing his sneakers, Paul made everything look pretty easy – as he has for the past decade-plus. And with his kicks to his exact liking, his family behind him and a fresh start with a loaded Clippers squad, perhaps this is the year CP3 reaches the promised land.
“I’m excited, I feel great. I have big goals going into the season,” Paul said.
“All the other stuff is behind us hopefully, and now we can focus on playing ball.”
What do you think?
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