Rock Solid

by August 29, 2012


Originally published in KICKS 15

by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad

Just off the official program for the since-rebranded 2003 Jordan Capital Classic, flip through the player bios and you’ll find Chris Paul’s name. There, just below his vital statistics and a smiling headshot, sits a short paragraph that begins with a list of his high school accomplishments and ends with a sobering assessment of his game: “He is a solid penetrator and decision maker while on the floor.”

Nearly a decade later, it’s safe to say CP3 is a smidge better than “solid.” So when he takes a breather from prepping for the 2012 Olympics and settles into his assigned seat next to Jordan Brand teammate Carmelo Anthony on a drizzly Saturday afternoon in Northwest DC to field questions from some local fans, Paul smiles.

The All-Star point guard has fond memories of the ’03 JBC. Paul led his team to a victory (despite co-MVP LeBron James’ 34-point show) and scored 18 points to go with 5 dimes. More importantly, though, it was there the North Carolina native had his first face-to-face meeting with Michael Jordan—the man whose instantly recognizable logo now sits near CP3’s own on each of his half-dozen signature sneakers.

Then a diminutive Wake Forest commit out of West Forsyth (NC) High, Paul admits to being awestruck in the presence of the player he spent years mimicking in his backyard as a kid. From his perch in front of a tightly packed crowd at the local sneaker spot, CP points out a kid in the crowd, and asks him his age—the boy is no more than 12 years old.

“See,” Paul starts, “that’s why there will never be another Michael Jordan, because kids that have never seen him play still know he’s the greatest.”

CP3’s undying respect for the greatest that ever did it makes him appreciative of every mention, of every appearance and sneaker release under the Jordan name. And, whether born from their first encounter or grown organically, Paul’s attitude on the court so closely mirrors Mike’s that his affiliation with Jumpman seems a natural fit.

“Some people like to win,” Paul tells the audience, matter of factly. “I feel like I have to win.”

Sound familiar?

True to form, after enduring a lockout and a famously nixed trade to the Lakers, CP3 landed in Clipper red, white and blue for the start of the ’11-12 season, where he immediately made winning the top priority for a franchise with a history of being the laughable loser. Paul quarterbacked the Clips to a 40-26 regular-season record (the best winning percentage in team history) and a first-round Playoff upset of the Memphis Grizzlies, earning First-Team All-NBA and First-Team All-Defense honors along the way.

The Clipper captain’s 19.8 points, 9.1 assists and League-best 2.5 steals per game had him in the MVP race for much of the year, and with good reason. Paul finished ’11-12 with the NBA’s highest number in Offensive Win Shares at 10.4 (just ahead of LeBron’s 10.0), an advanced statistic that essentially measures how many wins a single player accounts for via his offensive production alone. The next point guard on the list was Ty Lawson, at just 5.7.

Change of scenery: check. Changing culture: check. Change of kicks: coming soon.

Paul’s first season in Los Angeles was a boon for his shoe brand, too. The CP3.V was released to rave reviews, as the slimmed-down, speedier sneak got more retail attention than any of his four previous signatures. Given its success, Paul will have his first-ever fall release this year, as Jordan sped up production for the CP3.VI to catch up with its namesake’s skyrocketing popularity.

Like its previous incarnation, the inspiration behind the CP3.VI is as simple as two words—fast and aggressive.

“Those are the words that come up almost every time we meet,” says Tom Luedecke, lead designer for the CP3.VI, of Paul’s input. “How can we make it sleeker, how can we make it faster looking or can we change the stance to get faster. And then how can we make it look a little more aggressive. Those are the things that, interestingly enough, are exactly what he’s talking about when he’s talking about his game and his style of play.”

Working with the framework of the CP3.V’s low-cut silhouette and Jordan’s two-foam Podulon-engineered cushioning technology—which, according to Luedecke, Paul has been an advocate of since its inception—the VI hopes to increase speed by taking cues from outside the basketball realm.

Says Luedecke, “We did a full gait analysis, almost like a running shoe, what you would do with a runner. He’s one of the guys that leads the League in steals, so that translates into sprinting down the court for 2 points.”

What the Jordan designers discovered from examining video was Paul’s increased activity in the forefoot of the shoe rather than the heel. When CP3 breaks down a defender with a killer crossover, he typically lands on the inside of his heel, before quickly transferring weight to the lateral forefoot. With that in mind, the CP3.VI accounts for a smooth transition from heel to forefoot, with deep flex grooves under the toes that allow a player like Paul to stick the landing.

The result is a more responsive catalyst for one of the game’s most deadly penetrators. “We saw on slo-mo video that he literally stays engaged on the floor—if the shoe allows it—until he’s on the very tip of his toes when he’s pushing off. That’s something that’s very unique,” describes Luedecke. “We slow our research down, we slow our footage down, to enable him to be faster.”

Not everything having to do with the shoe is new age, though. Being that Paul is such a historian of the sneaker game—trust us, he is—inspiration for the sixth installment of the CP3 line came from his favorites of the past and present. First, Paul fingered innovations from the Jordan Super.Fly, praising its breathability, ventilation and comfort. Then, what started as a casual conversation between Luedecke and Paul ended with a big nod to a classic Jordan.

“I said, What’s your favorite J of all time?” remembers Luedecke. “And he said, ‘The XIII, I love the XIII. I might love it the most because that’s the one that got stolen.’”

“He was like, ‘Yeah, in high school, I got the XIIIs and that was a big deal for me. It’s a premium product. But then it got stolen.’ That’s something unique to his person and his personality, that there’s a love for that OG XIII. We took a little of that—a little wink and a flavor.”

Adding subtle personal elements to his kicks is nothing new for Paul. The CP3.V featured 61 triangular panels to honor the passing of his grandfather at that age, plus the dates of his son’s birthday and his wedding. The tip of each shoelace of the V had his hometown area code, North Carolina’s “336,” printed on it. He joked at the time of its launch in January that perhaps his next shoe would feature L.A.’s “310” instead.

Ask, and you shall receive. The laces for the CP3.VI were updated to include both 336 and 310—one for each end of the string. And, look closely at the bottom plates of each sole to find a map of the area surrounding his high school, and another of the Staples Center—one for each foot. The L.A. influence on Paul’s latest sneaker is clear, as is the continued homage to his homestead.

“It’s the connection between one foot that stands in the past,” Luedecke says, “and all the hard work that got him to where he is, and one foot in the future, where they’re hopefully going deeper into the Playoffs this year than last, as they continue to grow as a team.”

Paul, too, is looking forward to the CP3.VI, and taking on the rest of the West with a season under his belt running the Clip Show. “It’s going to be a great shoe. It’s going to have a few personal touches as I always do with my shoes. We’re going to bring a lot of energy with this shoe this year, with it being my first full year in L.A.,” Paul says. “There will be some L.A. love in my shoe, too, since that’s my new home.”

His new home is one that shares his fixation with fast, fancy cars—yet another tiny nugget that  Luedecke and Co. took into account in constructing the VI. Such attention to detail throughout the CP3 line should come as no surprise, though, considering Paul’s long-standing and deep appreciation for Jordan Brand products. Near the end of his time chatting with fans in DC, he recalls working menial jobs as a freshman and sophomore in high school, hoping to save up enough money for a pair of  Jordans—not only because he admired the sneakers themselves, but to protect his rep, too.

“When you go to the park and match up, the dude that’s got the Js is usually nice,” Paul suggests.

The significance of going to the park these days and spotting kids rocking a signature Chris Paul sneaker is not lost on the 27-year-old. When practicing with Team USA in Las Vegas, Paul got a special shipment from his parent brand—20 boxes of special-edition CP3 kicks in Olympic colorways. Even after seven years in the L, he reacted like a social-media crazed teenager, snapping photos to share with friends and Twitter followers. Paul vows never to take his place in the Jordan family for granted, no matter how long he’s been with the brand.

“It’s something you never get used to,” CP3 says. “Never get used to it. A very humbling experience and something I’ll always be grateful for.”

If the CP3.VI helps make the All-World point god even a hair better, Clipper fans will have plenty to be grateful for. Luedecke, not surprisingly, thinks it will.

“Weight is lower, transition is smoother and I think we even got more stable with the shoe,” the designer says. “I think from feedback, it’s one of the best-tested shoes that I’ve worked on for Jordan. We’ve gotten tremendous feedback on the final product from guys who have been testing shoes for us for 10 years. They’re saying, ‘Hey, this is the best shoe I’ve worn.’ That’s always good to hear.”

Sounds pretty solid.