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Get To Know CP3, The MVP?

Tyson Chandler was in his fourth season in the NBA when the front-runner for the rookie of the year chased him down as Chandler was boarding the Chicago Bulls' team bus. "Do you remember me?" he asked Chandler.

Chandler looked perplexed. How could he not remember the guy who just busted his team for 25 points and 13 assists that night? How could he not remember Chris Paul?

"Yeah, I know who you are," Chandler told him.

"No," Paul said, "from Orlando."

Chandler stared at the hazel eyed point guard, sized him up, then it hit him.

"I know you're not that little boy with the ball," Chandler said.

Paul smiled and nodded. He was the same kid who walked up to Chandler, dribbling a basketball, when Chandler was 14 and Paul was 11. Paul had accompanied his older brother, C.J., to an AAU Tournament in Orlando to see the dominant prodigy who had been featured on 60 minutes. Back then, Chandler's AAU team ran one play. Chandler set a screen at the top of the key, ran toward the basket then caught a lob for a dunk. The same play, over and over. "He started out high, then he ran to the rim," C.J. Paul said laughing.


So I said, Tyson, all you've been able to do your whole life is dunk. I'm just going to throw you alley-oop lobs. And you know this, man! (Photo by Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE via Getty Images)

Now that Chandler and Paul are teammates with the New Orleans Hornets, it shouldn't be a surprise that they lead the league in alley-oops with almost 60. "It's absolutely crazy," Chandler said of the way he and Paul hook up for lob dunks. "It's like your best friend or your buddy; you can already think it before they even say it."

The connection between Paul and Chandler has been one of the reasons that the Hornets (39-18) have the third best record in the Western Conference this season. "This little kid coming to watch me play is now the leader of our team," Chandler said. "He was in awe of me back then. Now I watch him in awe."

If you haven't had a chance to see much of Paul this season, do yourself a favor and check him out today at the Verizon Center. Check out how he dictates the tempo for the team, how he finds his teammates even when they aren't expecting it, how he attacks the man he's covering, then decides to score when his team needs him to.

He isn't being mentioned as an MVP candidate because people are ready to jump on the next, new flavor. Paul is legit. If you average more than 20 points, more than 10 assists and almost three steals a game - and your team is among the league's elite - you have to be in the discussion.

Paul probably won't beat out Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Kevin Garnett for the league's most prestigious individual honor, but he should make most voters' top five. Hornets Coach Byron Scott believes Paul has at least established himself as the game's best floor general. "I'm a big Steve Nash fan. I love the way he plays the game, the way he carries himself, the type of person he is," Scott said. "But there is nobody playing better than CP."


You might think I'm getting an assist, but I'm really trying to drill that heckler in the front row. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Chandler jokes that Paul still looks like the 11-year-old little boy he met in Orlando. Paul is humble, has a friendly personality and is always helpful. After a game against Milwaukee last month, Paul was getting ready to leave the locker room when Jannero Pargo stopped him. He needed some help tying his tie. Paul folded the silk and looped it, then handed it back to Pargo. He ties ties for people, too? "Yeah," Paul said. Always willing to assist.

But he also has a mean, competitive streak. He will get in a teammate's face and challenge him. C.J. Paul likes to share the story of the time when he was about 2 years old and locked his infant brother in his room as a prank. When little Chris emerged from his room in a walker, he shoved C.J. down the steps. "He's always been fiesty," C.J. Paul said, laughing.

Paul didn't come from nowhere. He won rookie of the year in 2006, and was named to the U.S. Men's National Team, which finished third at the world championships. But his second season was hampered by an ankle injury that forced him to miss 18 games. He had offseason surgery and was determined to make this season something special.

"I knew he was going to come back healthier and with a different attitude," Scott said. "He's tired of seeing his buddies in the playoffs. I knew he was going to come back with a vengeance."

Paul attended the NBA Finals last season as a guest of friend LeBron James and said watching him and friends Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony in the postseason has pushed him to take the Hornets back to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. "It really motivates me like never before," he said. "We get together in the summer and they're talking junk about the playoffs and I haven't experienced it. To perform at that stage would be the next step."


My shoe, the CP3. (Jordan Brand)

Jordan Brand released his signature shoe, the CP, on Saturday. The shoe will feature several symbols of importance to Paul. He has "SP" stitched on the back in memory of his former coach at Wake Forest, Skip Prosser. He also as the No. 61 etched on the shoe, which signifies the number of points he scored as a senior in high school on the day of his grandfather's funeral - one point for each year his grandfather lived.

His grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, was shot and killed a the family-owned gas station that Chris and C.J. used to work at growing up. The brothers would wake up at 5 a.m., drink some coffee and go to work. Paul still maintains a solid work ethic and remains an early riser. He is usually the first to arrive at practice each morning.

"He's a guy that reminds of me Isiah" Thomas, Scott said. "He's more of an old school player. There are certain players in the league now that couldve played in the 80s and 90s and there are certain players that couldn't. the league back then was a little bit more physical. He would've been just as good in that era as he is in this era."

Bowling Rivalry With Gilbert?
This is just an interesting side note. It would've been nice if Gilbert Arenas had been able to return against the Hornets - and not just because the Wizards desperately need him. Arenas and Paul have known each other since before the 2005 NBA draft, when Paul worked out at National Cathedral with Arenas.

Arenas and Paul don't have much of a rivalry on the court, but they both claim to be the league's best bowler. US Bowler magazine recently ranked the best celebrity bowlers and Orlando Magic all-star center Dwight Howard was the highest-ranking player from the NBA at No. 5. Memphis rookie Mike Conley came in at sixth, Arenas was seventh and Paul was eighth.


You might be mentioned as an MVP candidate this season, but you don't want this CP. You really don't. (Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II/Sports Illustrated)

Arenas said he was honored to be on the list, but thought he should've been higher. "I would win a competition over Chris Paul and Dwight Howard," said Arenas, who claims to have bowled a 277.

Paul, who is a spokesperson for the United States Bowling Congress, said other NBA players really don't want to step in the bowling alley with him. "They don't realize that, I mean, I seriously have an edge in that I had personal tips from some of the best, you know, like Chris Barnes," Paul said. Barnes is a nine-time Denny's PBA Tour Champion.

"They have really like helped me out so much. And (my NBA friends) don't realize that one of these days I might just announce that I'm retiring from the NBA and go on the PBA tour."

By Michael Lee  |  March 2, 2008; 7:29 AM ET
 
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