New Orleans point guard Chris Paul is through surprising people. No one is shocked by his stat lines, wondering how he’s leading the league in assists and steals (the first guy since John Stockton to do that), or curious how the Hornets have suddenly become a contender in the very-deep Western Conference.
No, most view Paul as a bona-fide star now, one of the best young players, not just one of the best young point guards, in the game. We had a chance to speak with Paul earlier this year.
MF: You were a great performer at Wake Forest, but coming into the league, two teams passed on you. Is that still a motivating force?
Paul: Oh yeah. There were a few commentators that said I would be too small to play in the NBA. That's still something that drives me and motivates me to this day. It was something that definitely pushed me before my rookie year, when I was training. It was always in the back of my mind.
How can being a smaller guy be an advantage in the league?
I think it makes me just a little bit quicker. I’m lower to the ground, so I can react a little bit quicker. Maybe sometimes when I’m cutting through the lane, they won’t see me.
How have your expectations of yourself changed since being drafted?
Year in and year out I try to bring something different to my game and to our team. I’m a lot tougher on myself game by game. When I miss shots, when I miss free throws, I’m probably my biggest critic. I think I just expect more from myself. It just comes from learning the game more and understanding what you have to do to win.
What drives you to keep pushing for more and more success?
I don’t want to just be the best on my team or the best in the Western Conference. I think a lot about legacy. Guys like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan because, as a kid, when I’m in the backyard playing, I’m saying, “I’m being Michael Jordan.” I want one of these days for kids to be saying, “I’m trying to be like Chris Paul.”
Do you take any solace in having a good game, even if the Hornets lose? Do stats matter, at all?
No. And that’s the nature of the position that I play. Point guards are quarterback of the team. If I have 35 points, 15 assists and we lose, I didn’t do my job.
What kind of program are you on? How often are you lifting? Can lift heavy and hard during the season?
Preseason I lift pretty hard, but in the season you’re playing too much. Lately, my elbows have been bothering me, so I haven’t lifted as much. One thing I do constantly is work on my core. I’m always doing different ab work, like on the physioball or using the med balls. As a guard I’m coming off ball screens, getting into the lane every game, so balance is something that I really need.
Do you do anything besides the balance work in the weight room to improve your quickness?
Yeah, legs. For all the basketball that I’ve played this past summer and for all the running that I do in season, I have to make sure that I’m doing leg extensions, leg curls, different things like that.
You mentioned Michael Jordan earlier. Did you ever think that you’d be this successful, this soon?
Never. I mean, when you’re a kid you just think about playing in the NBA one day. You never think you’re going to have your own shoe in the Jordan brand. I’ve truly been blessed, and I don’t take anything for granted. It’s fun to be a part of the best shoe brand and to play basketball every day and to say that’s my way of life. I have no complaints.
This is your second Jordan shoe. How is it different than the first one?
The second one is really performance-based. It’s what I need to be effective on the court. It’s lighter. It fits really tight to my foot, because as a point guard, I like my shoes to feel like a sock. I think we did a really good job of putting different elements of my life and who I am into the shoe. That way when the consumer buys the shoe, they will learn more and more about me.
There are several small personal details in the shoe's design like the number 61 for your grandfather who was 61 years old when he died. There’s also the name of your late Wake Forest coach, Skip Prosser. How important were those men in your development as an athlete and as a man?
Very important. My grandfather was my best friend. He taught me that for everything you want to do in life, you have to work for it. He had the first African-American owned service station on North Carolina, and I worked there every summer. And I’m not here in the NBA without my college coach Skip Prosser.