Blazers' McCollum wears many hats
There's a lot happening, both on and off the basketball court, with CJ McCollum.
You know the basketball part. The fifth-year shooting guard of the Trail Blazers has come into his own the past two seasons as one of the premier players at his position, averaging 21.5 points and teaming with Damian Lillard to form one of the most prolific backcourts in the NBA.
Off the court, McCollum is a man in motion. He recently received the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for February — the second time he has been so honored — for civic contributions and service. That includes "CJ's Press Pass" mentoring of high school journalism students; a "Dream Center" with the Boys & Girls Club of Portland Metro; co-hosting a weekly program on a local radio station and, starting last week, a weekly national podcast called "Pull Up."
McCollum, 26, also is one of the league's most cooperative and astute interview subjects with the national media. That's in part due to the fact that for two years in college at Lehigh, the journalism major was sports editor of the student newspaper, The Brown and White.
The loquacious McCollum took the time to speak with the Portland Tribune on a plethora of subjects during the Trail Blazers' recent final regular-season road trip.
Tribune: Looks like your first "Pull Up" podcast already has created some controversy. You're getting plenty of run for your comment that LeBron James signing with Philadelphia this summer is "a bigger possibility than people think."
McCollum: Oh goodness. It's interesting. Whenever you speak your opinion, there are going to be mixed reviews. I was asked about the likelihood of him leaving. I said with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons being there and their mix of other talent, possibly it'll happen. Some people will agree with my comments, some people won't, but that's the way the world works. That's the fun thing about it. Hopefully the podcast will give listeners a different perspective on not only the NBA but conversations we'll have about life in general.
Tribune: You recently were named as one of 35 players in the pool of candidates for the national team and 2020 U.S. Olympic team. How do you feel about that?
McCollum: Outstanding. Whenever you can participate in something like that for the chance to represent your country, it's a great honor. I'm very humbled to be mentioned in the same conversation as some of those players.
Tribune: How do you feel the season has gone for you?
McCollum: I'm happy, both with my individual success and the team's success. I feel like I've had a good, consistent season. We've played extremely well, even though we've been banged up the last couple of weeks. I like what we can potentially do in the playoffs.
Tribune: How are you feeling physically from the grind of a long regular season?
McCollum: Everybody gets a little drained at this point in the season. It's a lot of games and travel. But overall, I couldn't be happier with where I'm at physically and mentally.
Tribune: You've become one of the most proficient players in the league converting those sharp-angle shots on drives to the basket. Are you a pool player?
McCollum: (Laughs) I played a lot of pool growing up, including online through different apps. There are some similarities. Like in pool, it's a touch thing. You're trying to figure out the proper angle, where to hit the square, what type of rotation to use and so on. It takes a lot of time and practice to get good at both.
Tribune: What's it been like for you to play with Damian?
McCollum: I'm lucky to be able to play with one of the best players in the NBA. He works hard. Does things the right way. Great leader. Work ethic is second to none. It's been great to be able to ask questions and bounce things off of a player and a person like Dame.
Tribune: Do you feel like you are overshadowed, and maybe underappreciated, because of his presence?
McCollum: No. The better we are as a team, the more credit, notoriety and accolades we'll all receive individually. I couldn't be happier with the position I'm in. I'll be participating in the playoffs for the fifth straight year, even though my role has changed dramatically from my first couple of years. I feel like I'm continuing to get better, learning more about the game and myself. But accolades come with team success, and we're beginning to have more of that.
Tribune: How close are you and Damian? Do you hang out together?
McCollum: We're really good friends. It started before I got to be the NBA, when I was at Lehigh and he was a rookie (with the Blazers) and we were reaching out to each other. It wasn't forced; it was organic. So we knew each other before I was drafted, and we've grown closer over the years. We hang out, go shopping, vacation together, all that.
Tribune: Would it be important to you to someday be the No. 1 guy on a team?
McCollum: I honestly don't think about that. At this stage of my career, I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to win a championship. The sole focus is on trying to help the Trail Blazers win games, and for me to improve individually.
Tribune: You've been co-hosting your radio show from 10 p.m. to midnight Fridays on JAM'N 107.5 for some time.
McCollum: Three years now. I have fun with it. We pick songs to play. Hip hop and throwback.
Tribune: You seem to have a varied array of musical interest that includes old-time rhythm and blues, such as the late, great Marvin Gaye.
McCollum: I love me some old school. I've got a very old soul.
Tribune: Thank you for continuing to support our line of work with the CJ's Press Pass program.
McCollum: This was the third season we've done it. It's a chance to provide young journalists with the opportunity to partner with professionals to write stories, cover sporting events and get some experience.
Tribune: How did you feel about getting the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for February?
McCollum: It's a great honor to win an award like that, especially since it's about giving back to kids, particularly those in underserved areas. I love that I've been able to give them opportunities they might not have had.
Tribune: Why did you switch from Nike to Li Ning shoes last summer?
McCollum: My contract was up with Nike. I was in position to have some meetings and figure out my future. It felt like it was a great potential partnership. I'm happy with the work we've done so far. It's a chance to spread my brand to China.
Tribune: What's it been like for you playing in Portland?
McCollum: It's been an amazing experience. As I've continued to grow from Year One to Year Five, I've learned a lot about the city, the restaurants, the people. I've found more things to do in my free time. Such great scenery. So many places to visit. The response and support from the community has been tremendous. I've bought a home (in West Linn). I'm very happy here.
Tribune: When you signed your four-year, $106-million contract extension, what was that feeling like?
McCollum: Surreal. To be in a position where the organization trusts you, has that confidence in you to give you that type of deal. ... I still feel in awe at times. It's a great motivating thing for me. My biggest thing is to continue to figure out ways to improve, to take advantage of all the things we have at our disposal, and building on what we've done in these last five years.
Tribune: Do you think the Blazers are on a championship path?
McCollum: I hope so, at some point. That's everyone's goal. It starts by making the playoffs consistently, which we've done. Then it's gaining homecourt advantage, and then it's surviving and advancing as far as you can go. We're heading in the right direction, and we're very young, with plenty room for growth. I think we'll get there.