Hornets' Paul heads back to China

NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Paul was so taken by basketball's popularity in China during the Beijing Olympics that he's adding a Chinese flair to his signature shoe and making a return trip for the first time since receiving his gold medal.

Paul said he felt like a member of the Beatles while touring the country with Team USA last summer and that he continues to be amazed at China's passion for the sport.

"When you're engulfed in something like that, I'm just taking it all in, realizing that it's a dream to be able to travel to China and people want to see you play, they want to know what you're doing," Paul began. "It's still something I can't totally grasp."

Paul's second trip back to the Far East in as many years will be among the highlights of a busy offseason that saw him become a father, go back to college and add a little bulk to his physique.

The Hornets' All-Star point guard and 2008 Olympic gold medal winner will arrive in Tianjin on Aug. 2 and move on to Guangzhou on Aug. 3-4, hosting basketball clinics and dedicating an outdoor court on the grounds of a Guangzhou school.

The trip will include the launch of the Jordan CP3 II China Edition basketball shoe, which will be decorated with Chinese characters symbolic of Paul's life, such as the year he was born (1985), and the No. 61, which relates to Paul scoring 61 points in a high-school game to honor his 61-year-old slain grandfather. It also will include the No. 106, a nod to his NBA record for consecutive games with a steal.

Though the shoe will be sold in the United States, Paul said it only makes sense to also market it in China. He took in some youth-level basketball games last year and came away impressed.

"Man, they can really play. That's the thing," Paul said. "I'm excited about going back to see some of top point guards over there because you never know, these might be some of the guys I'm playing against in the World Championships or even in the Olympics in 2012. ... Everyone thinks we know all the tricks here in the NBA, but you can learn some different things when you travel because different players are doing different things."

Paul spoke about his trip on Wednesday before wrapping up a three-day basketball camp in New Orleans, during which his foundation donated about $55,000 to charities in the New Orleans area.

During breaks at the camp, Paul hovered over a baby carriage, attending to his 2-month-old son, Christopher Emmanuel Paul II. The NBA star had the child with Jada Crawley, his girlfriend since college at Wake Forest. Paul said he loves fatherhood and raves about his son's prodigious appetite and playfulness, and posted a picture on Twitter.

Last weekend, Paul dedicated the second of three public courts he is refurbishing in New Orleans.

Paul has begun most days this offseason with workouts aimed at improving his strength, and his new bulk was evident at his basketball camp. Last season, he often logged close to 40 minutes a game and was worn out by the playoffs, when New Orleans appeared punchless in a lopsided first-round loss to Denver.

Paul estimated that he is now between 10 and 15 pounds heavier than he was as a rookie in 2005-06.

"It's to make sure I'm durable for the season, for the amount of minutes I play," he said.

He has spent much of the summer in his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., dining out with relatives and performing more charity work. He also took three summer classes at Wake Forest, where he played for two seasons. Eventually, he intends to graduate with a degree in religion.

"I'm a Christian. I'm Baptist, and I think a lot of times people tend to believe what they believe because that's what their parents told them," Paul said. "I just wanted to find out more information about other religions, so I could know why I believe what I believe."

When the summer traveling is over, Paul looks forward to getting back in the familiar confines of New Orleans Arena, where he draws the loudest cheers when he is the last starter introduced.

"I really use that as energy to get ready for the game, to know they really have that confidence in me," Paul said. "I think a lot of times, people are thinking, 'Man, that's a lot of pressure.' But I use it as fuel. I'm extremely grateful."