Chris Paul remembers so fondly his days in Oklahoma City that he still knows exactly how much his rent was.
“I paid $750 a month,” he said.
The house where he lived during his first two years in the NBA — and the NBA's first two years in Oklahoma City — was in the Bristol Park addition in Edmond. It was less than a mile from the Hornets' practice facility, and according to Paul, proximity was its most redeeming quality.
“You could walk in the front door and fall out the back,” he said. “It used to smell like dog food all the time because when the wind blew, the dog food plant was right there.
“But I loved it.”
Paul returns to OKC this weekend. He and the Clippers have a high noon showdown with the Thunder. But even though he'll be wearing the wrong team's jersey, any time that Paul comes back to town we are reminded of the first time he was here.
So, too, is Paul.
Players from that first season the Hornets were in town pass our way occasionally. Chris Andersen was in town earlier this week with the Heat, J.R. Smith earlier this month with the Knicks and David West earlier this season with the Pacers. Then, of course, there are regular appearances from Desmond Mason, who is no longer playing but lives in Oklahoma City. But no player hearkens those days quite like CP3.
The Hornets relocated after Hurricane Katrina flooded them out of New Orleans and immediately started winning hearts. Maybe any team would've won over Oklahoma City, so eager to be a big-league hamlet were we, but the Hornets didn't take any chances.
The team sent players out into the community every day, it seemed. They popped up at schools and churches and businesses. They signed autographs. They shook hands. They posed for pictures.
If you'd have called the Hornets and asked CP3 to come to your 6-year-old's birthday party, I'm pretty sure they'd have tried to make it happen.
When those of us at Oklahoman world headquarters started planning our preseason section on the Hornets, we decided we wanted to photograph every player. And what's more, we wanted to pose them at landmarks all around town. Ford Center. State Capitol. Bricktown Canal. Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Oklahoma City Zoo.
The Hornets didn't bat an eye.
Best of them all was Andersen. We wanted to take his picture at the zoo. What's more, we wanted to surround “The Birdman” with birds.
Birdman not only posed with some of his feathered friends but also let about half a dozen brightly colored Lorikeets perch on his shoulders and head. The shot remains a favorite around our sports department.
No one was a better sport in those photo shoots than Andersen, but Paul ran a close second. He was the fourth overall pick in the draft, and after some stellar games in the preseason, the buzz around him had only grown.
But the way Paul acted, you'd have thought he was a role player from Pocasset. He was game for anything. He posed in front of the arena with J.R. Smith, then went to the capitol and posed some more with Smith. Then, Paul did some individual shots at the capitol.
And he was smiling all the way.
It's possible that Paul already recognized the good situation into which he'd been dropped. Preseason games in Oklahoma City had been big-time events. Fans packed the joint for glorified scrimmages, and that just wasn't normal.
Paul still remembers the energy on those nights.
“Preseason games were crazy,” he said. “Every game we played, I’ve never seen fan support like that.”
CP3 has become an enemy of the state in the years since. Anyone not wearing Thunder blue in this state now is an adversary. What’s more, the super athletic Clippers pose as much a threat to the Thunder’s title hopes as almost any team in the Western Conference, and Paul is the engine that makes them go.
Because of all of that, Paul is bound to hear it from folks inside The Peake on Sunday.
But just so you know, Thunder fans, CP3 touts you every chance he gets. He often reminds people that his first two years in the league were spent in Oklahoma City, and he always says nice things about those days.
“Nothing like it,” he said. “Nothing like it.”
CP3 is reminded of those good days whenever he comes to town. We should be, too.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni Carlson can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.