Interview: Elle Clay

Photos: Anthony Blasko

The “Fearless Ones” celebrates a new generation of defiant, talented individuals. Click here for more stories about the cast.

Even when Chris Paul reached the Conference Finals for the first time in his professional career, he spoke about not counting it as an accomplishment. The job wasn’t finished, and the ultimate goal was yet to be achieved. CP isn’t a “good enough” kind of person, and despite the widespread acknowledgement that he’s one of the greatest point guards to ever play basketball, he refuses to settle or stop striving for greatness and improvement — both as a player and a human being.

Since leaving Wake Forest and entering the league in 2005, CP has accumulated a long list of accolades. He’s a nine-time All-Star, a Rookie of the Year and Team USA gold medalist. He has the third-highest per-game assist average in league history (at 9.7), is top 10 in the league in career steals and assists and has been honored multiple times as an all-defensive and all-league first-teamer. His leadership earned him the opportunity to be President of the pro basketball league’s players association since 2013.

None of the above have exempted CP from challenges. He just responds to them with a tenacious attitude. He’s even used his height to his advantage, becoming one of the best defensive guards ever. Throughout multiple trades, he didn’t let his playing style wane; he learned to optimize the talents of his new teammates. When he’s been injured, he uses the time to get mentally tougher and smarter.

CP’s diverse personality and skill set propelled him to become one of Jordan Brand’s longest-tenured athletes, and he has one of the longest-running signature shoe lines, now on No. 12, in the business. But when he’s not rocking his own pair, CP is often seen in the Air Jordan I, from pregame tunnel walks to using them as bowling shoes during his annual celebrity invitational.

For the “Fearless Ones” collection, CP rocks the new Air Jordan I High Zoom Fearless. Fearlessness and defiance are core to his game and his desire to give back to his community, too. Below, CP talks about using his platform, being a father of two and more.

As a North Carolina native, what is it like to be a part of the Jordan Brand family?

There’s nothing like it. When people think about North Carolina, they think of MJ. As a kid, my older brother was always trying to imitate MJ in the backyard.

You’re involved in giving back to and enriching your community. Where do you think your philanthropic nature comes from?

I think that giving back originates from my parents, my grandparents and our family upbringing. Growing up in the church, it was all about helping others, whether that be visiting sick people or helping church members with different things. It’s all about bringing people along with you and not forgetting where you come from.

“It's all about bringing people along with you and not forgetting where you come from.”

You’re one of the more visible athletes when it comes to using your platform for activism. Do you feel like it’s your responsibility as a public figure to be outspoken?

You have to do what you’re comfortable with. As a public figure, and more so as a father, I do feel a responsibility. When you turn the other cheek after you see something wrong, or you see social injustice, I always think, “My kids are paying attention.” If their dad speaks up, or says how he feels, maybe that will give them the courage or the power to do the same. As public figures, we give everyday people the courage to speak up and tell their stories.

CP showed up early to the shoot so that he could wrap up early, too. On set, the first thing I noticed was his crew, specifically his older brother. I’d seen him on social media and TV. Chris mentions him a lot, as a motivating force. Since I have a big brother myself, I connect with that part of his story — someone bigger than you, constantly challenging you. After the interview, I got a chance to meet him. Later that evening, I called my big brother.

Now more than ever, it’s hard to shield kids from the news and the harsh realities of life. How do you handle talking about delicate subjects with your children?

Well, I wouldn’t say that I was sheltered growing up, but my parents wanted to protect us. At the same time, they tried to make sure that my brother and I had enough information. It’s such a different day and age now.

We try to give our kids as much information as possible, in a way that a child can understand. I always want them to be able to talk to us and ask us the questions they have. They live in a social media-driven world, where there is a lot of racism and prejudice. They need to be able to talk to their parents about it.

Shifting topics, you bring a lot of drip to the tunnel before games. You’ve arrived wearing Air Jordan Is often, and you previously had an AJI collab. Do you remember getting your first pair?

When I was a kid, my parents were able to get pairs for my brother and me. There are a lot of Air Jordans out there, but I’ve always been the biggest fan of the Air Jordan I. That’s because I wear them with shorts, I wear them with jeans, and I wear them with suits. Everyone always thinks that when you put on a tuxedo, you need to wear some flat dress shoes or something. I’m the person who’s always looking for a pair to go with my suit.

The short conversation felt easy and succinct. CP is as comfortable in conversation as he is on the court. As a fellow point guard, I was excited to meet him and eased by his chill demeanor. Even on set, wearing a coat, he kept his cool and made others feel comfortable, too.

You’re on your 12th signature shoe with Jordan Brand. What have you learned about footwear and design from working on these shoes?

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s all about the story. Obviously, silhouette and design play a huge part in initially attracting someone to the shoe. If you can tell a story behind the shoe, then it’s everything. When you think about the Air Jordan I “Banned” with the X on the back, the story is the shoe. I’ve learned a lot about storytelling, and no matter the shoe, the story is what matters.

A lot of people associate the ’85 era with MJ and dominance. How would you say your game embodies a similarly defiant spirit?

Well, ’85 is the year I was born, so that ’85 means a lot. Just being part of Jordan Brand is excellence. It’s a standard that you have to get to, and that you have to remain at. MJ does an amazing job of always pushing us.

The coolest thing is seeing how much the brand and family have grown. I think it shows you that MJ’s legacy won’t ever die.

This is the 10th year of your CP3 Elite Guard camp. How did camp shape you and your attitude growing up?

Camp shaped me a lot. As a kid, I remember going to Five-Star Basketball camp. I went to another camp, where I learned all the ball handling.

But when I had an opportunity to start my own, I wanted it to be different. One time, I went to a Nike camp, and the biggest thing I wanted to give the campers was realness — the opportunity to talk about not only basketball but life.

Everybody talks about putting the ball in the hoop. For me, it’s about telling them what it’s going to be like when they’re recruited to college, when they get their first check or when they win a big game. At times, basketball is the easy part, and life is the hardest part.

The Air Jordan I High Zoom Fearless is available starting December 7 on, SNKRS and at select retailers.

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