Paul spares time for bowling, but he can't wait for Hornets season
For a while this offseason, life for Chris Paul felt like a series of 7-10 splits. Here one day, way over there the next. He bounced from Winston-Salem, N.C., to Las Vegas. From Vegas to Beijing, then back. Down to New Orleans with his brother, C.J., then out of there lickety-split when Hurricane Gustav roared their way. Finally back to Winston-Salem. It was as if the New Orleans Hornets' point guard and his All-Star skills were left standing in one corner of a slickly oiled lane, his head and his heart stranded across the way in the other.
"This summer has been a whirlwind,'' Paul said in a conference call with reports Wednesday. He was promoting his PBA Celebrity Invitational bowling event this weekend in the North Carolina market where he grew up, attended college (Wake Forest) and still considers home. But his thoughts all summer, no matter where he was, kept drifting to his second hometown.
"My best friend got married the day before we left to go to Vegas to get ready for [Team] USA,'' Paul said. "We went from China to Vegas for [a Nike obligation]. Then Vegas to New Orleans, and then upon landing in New Orleans, we found out about Gustav. We had no idea about it. We had to leave. Then we found out about Ike.''
The devastation that welcomed Paul to the NBA in 2005, in the form of Hurricane Katrina, and shaped so much of his first three seasons thankfully wasn't matched this time around. Lives, homes and businesses were spared. The New Orleans Arena, where the Hornets play, and the Alario Center, where they practice, dodged further damage. In a week or so, Paul will head down there again, the split resolved, the 7-pin down, body and mind sliding over toward that 10-pin.
"Man, I can't wait [for training camp]. I miss New Orleans so much. I miss my teammates, I miss the season. I'm excited,'' he said. "In '05, we were just being introduced to each other, me and New Orleans. Now New Orleans is a part of me. Anything that happens there happens to me. ... It's my other family, just like my hometown is. I want to be able to give back to them just like [Winston-Salem].''
Before long, he will, matching his givebacks at home through his CP3 Foundation with one in the Big Easy. This is Paul's third charity weekend and bowling event since he turned pro and earned the Rookie of the Year award in 2005-06. But it's the first in which stars of his league will partner with professional bowlers (with a few show-biz types involved, too) for an event that will be taped Saturday and telecast on ESPN on Oct. 19. It's the lesser known of Paul's sporting passions, a love instilled that Christmas morning when his parents gave him a red, white and blue bowling ball.
"Looked like the old ABA basketball,'' Paul said.
He is avid enough about the pastime to have once rolled a 256 and be a ringleader of sorts of the NBA's somewhat secret society of bowlers. Let's face it, bowling is not the likeliest activity one imagines for an NBA star. Yet the ranks of hobby bowlers in the league is fairly swollen these days. Michael Redd and Desmond Mason bowled together during their days in Milwaukee. Dwyane Wade hosted a charity tournament in Chicago earlier this month. Gilbert Arenas bowls. So does Elton Brand. Dwight Howard "says he's a good bowler,'' Paul said. "I need to see how Rasheed Wallace is.''
Wallace apparently tells Paul before nearly every tip-off, New Orleans vs. Detroit, that he wants to get the two of them on a lane somewhere.
"Our whole team went bowling on the trip to Seattle [last season],'' Paul said. "I took my ball on the team flight with us. Peja [Stojakovic] had an event in New Orleans. Julian Wright went bowling just about every day after practice. ... There are a lot of guys who bowl in the NBA, I think more than a lot of people realize. I don't play too much golf. If I get some down time, you can usually find me down at the bowling alley.''
Paul's old plastic ABA ball has been replaced many times over, most notably by a Columbia 300 Messenger ball that serves the powerful hook he has honed. He has a wardrobe of balls the way other NBA players collect suits, throwback jerseys or shoes. As a matter of fact, Paul, handpicked by the former Bulls' star to represent Nike's Jordan Brand, with a Jordan CP3 sneaker launched in March, receives custom-designed bowling shoes from the company, too. Lately, he has been wrapping black tape around the thumb of his delivery hand, just like the big leaguers, to help with the wear and tear.
"It's been a tough offseason, deciding whether I want to train for basketball or train for bowling,'' said Paul, who seemed to be kidding only slightly. The Hornets, 56-26 last season and the Western Conference's No. 2 seed, are a popular pick heading toward October to challenge for the 2009 championship, with Paul (21.1 ppg, 11.6 apg, 2.7 steals, 48.8 FG percentage) as their driving force. And here he's thinking about lane violations of a different sort.
"It's going to be a lot of pressure. I'm nervous,'' Paul said about playing with and against PBA stars such as Chris Barnes and Sean Rash. So imagine how less committed bowlers scheduled to attend -- including LeBron James, Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant, Hornets coach Byron Scott and Wade, who by his own admission can roll anywhere from a 95 to a 195 -- probably feel.
While Paul and his mates were helping the Redeem Team claim Olympic gold at the 2008 Games in Beijing, Barnes was part of the American squad that captured its own gold medal in August at the World Men's Championships in Bangkok.
"The thing about us, though, we're competitors,'' Paul said. "With guys like LeBron, me, Dwyane Wade, you've got a guy like Chris Barnes up there, but if you ask one of us, we feel like we can beat him.''
That's what happens when you have so much time to spare, stepping out in an alley, your mind so firmly in the gutter.
Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005.