When Chris Paul looks back over his shoe history, he sees his entire career, what he was dealing with both personally and professionally. Nine signature shoes entering your 11th NBA season will do that. So will staying intimately involved in the design process all along the way. For Paul every signature Jordan shoe does more than tell a story. Each sneaker tells all kinds of stories, in all kinds of colors, with all kinds of nuances. That’s the joy of having a signature sneaker.
Ahead of the launch of Paul’s ninth signature shoe from Jordan Brand—and the L.A. Clippers preseason trip to China—the All-Star guard took a break from Southern California training to speak to SI.com about all things sneakers.
• MORE NBA: Jordan unites Clippers' Paul, yellow dragon
SI.com: What do people see when they look at the lineup of all nine shoes?
Chris Paul:“I think, obviously, if I looked at nine shoes, I see the difference. I see my career. I can see the different things I was going through. Every shoe tells a story. I can look at the fours and remember where I was. I remember the entire process of making the shoe: the threes with the names and stuff, the fours and fives and (going) low and talking about getting quicker. Over the evolution of the shoe, I also pay attention to the materials. Even the ones—the very first shoe I ever had—at the time I thought it was God’s gift to man to have a pair of shoes like that and now I think about the materials that go into a shoe and how far it has come.”
SI.com: What part of process do you get most involved in?
Paul: “I’m really big into the comfort aspect of my shoe. I wear a different pair of shoes every game. When I was a kid people used to say, ‘I gotta break them in.’ I try to design a shoe that is wearable straight from the store—take them out of the box and go play.
“The thing I get most excited about in the design phase is the cool little nuances of the shoes. I’ve been into sneakers and shoes for a long time. The coolest thing was the Jordan 23s, on the inside of the tongue—nine of 10 times the first thing you do is pull up the tongue—was MJ’s thumbprint on the inside of the tongue of the 23s. Even though it seems like a small aspect, every time you tied up the pair, even for a split second, when you touched that thumbprint you felt like Michael Jordan. Little nuances are why I feel so blessed and fortunate to have my own shoe. I put little things that represent my family and me and who I am. There are a lot of times in a shoe you see a design and for most people it may be a symbol, when I see it, I see my college coach who passed away—Skip Prosser—on one of my shoes, my kids’ birthdays, my wife and my anniversary.”
SI.com: What nuance do you appreciate most about the CP3.IX?
Paul: “On the inside of the heel, when you look at it, it looks like a ring and a stadium. It symbolizes my wife and the inside of Lawrence Joel Veteran Memorial Coliseum, where we met for the first time and I played college basketball at. On every shoe—one through nine—there is always a symbol hidden representing my grandfather. It would be interesting to grab a shoe, if you lay every last one through nine, and be cool to watch somebody find that logo on every shoe.” (Hint: the CP3.IX has the chevron on the sole.)
SI.com: Tell the story of using a chevron design to honor your grandfather
Paul: “My grandfather owned a service station in North Carolina. It was a Chevron. It was the first black-owned service station and that is where I worked every summer. Anytime my dad or uncle got laid off, they went to the service station.”
SI.com: What technology evolution has most marked your signature line?
Paul: “When we integrated the Podulon cushioning technology (first seen in the CP.3 III) and to see it continue to evolve to Podulite (debuted on CP3.VII). Everything was about comfort. We’ve had leather, so many different materials. (Now) the mesh and breathability and lockdown with the lacing system we have. I’ve said this for a long time, but a lot of times when guys guard me I feel like I have an unbelievable advantage because the shoes were made for me.”
SI.com: Do you think you’re locked into low tops now?
Paul: “I think so. Obviously you just never know, but for me, everything is about speed and being as close to the court as I can be. For some guys the weight of their shoes don’t matter, but for me quickness and speed is how I make a living and I like the low top aspect of it.”
SI.com: You wear a different pair every night, how many different designs do you wear over a season?
Paul: “Oh man, almost 82. No one is on NIKEiD more than I am. I’m serious. The meetings I have and involvement I have with NIKEiD has been unbelievable. I’ll never forget the conversations with Larry Miller (Jordan Brand president) asking what do I have to do to get my shoes on NIKEiD. I’ll never forget when my sevens were on ID and I was on an iPad and calling my Mom, telling her to pick a color. Then my Dad. I ended up making a pair of shoes for everyone who worked for me.”
SI.com: Do you ever wear past shoes on the court?
Paul: “This past season, when I was in the eights, I started to do that. This was the first season where I started to dip back into my older shoes, which is kinda fun. It is kinda crazy that it has been that long to have retros, right? This year I caught myself wearing the sixes in a few games. Probably the only one that won’t ever get worn again on court are the ones, but, yeah, primarily I’m in the nines.”
• MORE NBA: Jordan designer explains Griffin's Super.Fly 4
SI.com: What do you do with all your game-worn shoes?
Paul: “I keep some from the big games and different things like that. I’ve got an unbelievable shoe closet at the house. But they pile up in my locker. Sometimes my teammates need them. A lot of friends have different events and some of my teammates have family members who wear a 12.5, so I give them to them. Since I don’t wear headbands or wristbands I’ve never had anything to give, so occasionally after games I take them off and give them.”
SI.com: How excited do you get about new colorway releases?
Paul: “I’m very involved in what colors are going to drop and the stories behind them. The Emerald ones coming out, Emerald is my birthstone.” (The Emerald is the first colorway to launch in North America, with the Yellow Dragon launching with Emerald in China before it makes its way to North America.)
SI.com: Which colorway will you wear to open the season?
Paul: “I don’t know yet. The league mandates what we can wear and they usually have to be the team colors or you get fined, so I’m not sure yet. But I definitely have some options (the Yellow Dragon is based off a popular Chinese New Year’s dance) for China for the preseason.”
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and design for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.