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CJ McCollum diary: ‘Around the holidays, it’s important to share the love and spread the love’

The New Orleans Pelicans guard discusses the team’s growth, life with his family, his business and charity involvement and the recent Kyrie Irving suspension

NEW ORLEANS — The line of cars stretched about a mile long in pouring rain five days before the arrival of Thanksgiving. As each car arrived, New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum walked out from a tent to personally deliver bags filled with groceries that totaled 500 meals.

While the turkey with all the sides and then some will be meaningful for the less fortunate, McCollum felt just as blessed to be able to use his platform to provide it.

“It means a lot to me to be able to come out here and physically help the people and take advantage of the blessings I have been given here in the community,” McCollum told Andscape from Joe W. Brown Memorial Park. “Around the holidays, it’s important to share the love and spread the love. To be able to give it back with food is something that I’m thankful for. Everybody is happy to be here and thankful to be a part of it. But I’m thankful for them coming out because the weather is not too great, people have jobs, people are busy in their lives. For people to be able to come out means a lot to me, too.”

Besides starring with the Pelicans, McCollum is a husband, father, new resident of New Orleans, owns a vineyard with his wife, Elise, in Oregon, is president of the National Basketball Players Association, and recently debuted a podcast on ESPN. The least of the 31-year-old’s worries is success for himself and his Pelicans, as he expects a potential franchise-altering season. Also added to McCollum’s long list of demands on his time is that he’s taking part in a diary with Andscape during the 2022-23 NBA season.

Draymond Green, Vince Carter, Trae Young, Fred VanVleet, De’Aaron Fox, Cade Cunningham, James Wiseman, and Josh Jackson have participated in previous diaries. McCollum plans to share insight into his life on and off the court during his monthly diary this season.

The following is McCollum’s second diary installment as told to Andscape’s Marc J. Spears in which he talks about recently playing while ill, guard Kyrie Irving’s suspension from the Brooklyn Nets for posting posted a link on Twitter to a film with antisemitic ideas, date night with his wife, the state of the Pelicans, giving back on Thanksgiving and much more.

We played a back-to-back against Golden State and Atlanta. When we got to Indiana, I felt a sore throat and fatigue. I thought it was the travel going from Phoenix and L.A. And then we flew to where it was a little colder. This is the time of the year where guys get sicker. You try to take your vitamins and do what you’re supposed to do. I woke up with a sore throat. I didn’t think much of it. I told the training staff, ‘Hey, I’m feeling congested. I have bad allergies anyway. Can you give me something for it?’ I started taking stuff. I played in the Indiana game. Played terrible. Played another game where I started progressively feeling worse. Sore throat. Cough, congestion to dizziness, fatigue. Lack of concentration coming out of the huddle. Not remembering plays. It was rough. I forgot a couple plays out of a timeout and that was when I was like, ‘There is something wrong.’ But I played anyway. Trying to help win games and help the team.

I thought I could perform admirably. I just couldn’t make shots. I could help us rebound, get assists, and play defense. But the focus and defense weren’t there. I went 3-for-14, 3-for-11. I had my worst three-game stretch since 2015. I was still helping the team, but I was shooting very poorly. DayQuil. NyQuil. Alka-Seltzer Plus. I was doing all that. And then, I called our [team doctor] and told them I needed something stronger. So, I started taking codeine, cough syrup at night. And that helped knock off the cough. I started looking like myself. Not as pale. My eyes were not as saggy. Looking more like I presently do.

I got some extra reps to tighten up my [game] and my brother called me. He said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I said, ‘I’m sick.’ He said, ‘You need to get in the gym.’ I said, ‘I’m trying but I don’t have the energy. I’m tired.’ I tightened some things up. He said make sure you have more [shooting] form discipline, hold your follow-through. ‘If you get your reps, you should be cool.’

Naturally, things started to come back. But I feel like s— and I’m playing like s—. Thankfully my wife and son didn’t get sick. It was rough. It felt like I had COVID, but I took COVID tests, and I didn’t have it. We ended up losing a couple games. We lost to the [Portland Trail] Blazers; that’s never fun losing to my old team in a game where Dame [Damian Lillard] and Nurk [Jusuf Nurkic] don’t play at all. We bounced back nicely winning a tough back-to-back. We’re playing well as a team. Young guys are playing really, really well. I’m really proud of the growth that they’re showing. Even when I wasn’t playing well, we were able to win games.

CJ McCollum (left) and Zion Williamson (right) of the New Orleans Pelicans look on during the game against the Brooklyn Nets on Oct. 19 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

We are the only team in the [NBA] top 10 in offensive rating, defensive rating, net rating, rebounds, assists percentage and 3-point percentage. And that’s with me not even shooting well and Zion [Williamson] being out. That shows you where we’re at, and where we can still get to.

I’m just happy with the situation, the happiness that my family has, the joy that I have being here [in New Orleans]. It has been a really cool transition; living in the South full time has been really dope. It’s still cold right now, but the weather has been crazy nice. I’m looking forward to us being healthy, us continuing to try figure things out. There was a stat I sent to my brother and one of our assistant coaches, Casey [Hill]. We are the only team in the [NBA] top 10 in offensive rating, defensive rating, net rating, rebounds, assists percentage and 3-point percentage. And that’s with me not even shooting well and Zion [Williamson] being out. That shows you where we’re at, and where we can still get to. We’re a top-10 offensive and defensive team. We’re doing things the right way on both sides of the ball. It is scary thinking about the room for improvement and then us getting more comfortable with each other.

There is still room for improvement. Still room for growth in my decision-making and my ability to run a team and execute down the stretch. It’s really cool to see the growth I’m having as a player at this stage of my career. I’m getting older, getting better, and getting wiser. I’m showing another side of the game that I haven’t shown before. I’m showing the work, the film, the ability to adapt and the ability to show different roles.

We [my wife and I] to try carve out time for weekly dates. Obviously, we have a son. Life is hectic, gets busy and centered around your child. So, you try to find time for one another to bond and be able to talk about our life together. We try to carve out date night once a week. With the schedule it’s been tough. We’ve been on the road a lot, but we try to go to one restaurant a week. Sometimes it’s after a game. Last [week] we went to Luke’s. It was on OpenTable with 7,000 reviews. It was very good, and we liked it a lot. We’ve been to Paladar 511, Bouligny Tavern, we’re big fans of N7, St. James Cheese. We did Doris Metropolitan; it’s a really good steakhouse that is [former Pelicans guard] Josh Hart’s favorite. R’evolution. It’s really good. Desi Vega’s. Gianna’s is a very good Italian spot. You can get some really good food at different places with variety. My wife loves Sophia. They had really good Italian food. [Pelicans guard] Jose [Alvarado] was there. [Pelicans forward] Herb [Jones] was there. The staff goes there after the game. It stays open pretty late.

Our dates are important so we can stay connected. With your significant other, you have to be able to do a lot of the things that you did before you had children. That’s important. When you love somebody, you need to be able to spend time with them aside from everything else you are doing. We both have our own lives, all stuff that we’re doing, we have a life together as well. But it’s important that we stay connected and you to have those moments. It’s really important for our relationship, but also sanity. Working in this world it’s like, it’s hectic, it’s busy, it’s chaotic. It’s nice to be able to have a romantic night out.

We play in San Antonio on Wednesday but come back for some hours just to have Thanksgiving dinner at the house. So, I’ll have dinner at the house; my wife, my son, we will make something. I got to leave because [the Pelicans] have a flight out at 6 p.m. It won’t be the big family gathering with the schedule, but coach [Willie Green] basically told us to go home for a little bit, which would be cool. Coach Willie is really big on family. He’s big on the importance of spending time with your loved ones. He’s big on team dinners. It stems from him playing and understanding the importance of that. But also probably how, how he was raised and him being with the [Golden State] Warriors and the [Phoenix] Suns. They had team dinners and knew the importance of breaking bread with loved ones and to get on the same page with teammates, family, and friends. All that stuff is really important. He knew I was sick, so he gave me the day off when we came back from the road. We had two days off between games and he said, ‘I know you’re not feeling well.’ I appreciated that. I felt terrible. He said, ‘We’re not really going to do anything in practice today. Stay home with the family. Take vitamins. Do what you got to do and we will have a contact practice the next day.’ Yeah, that helped me get refreshed and recharged.

Willie is a really great dude. He’s a really good human. A good coach who cares about you, but he’ll challenge you. Family-oriented. He not afraid of confrontation. He not afraid to hold you accountable and as he says, he’s not calling you out. He’s calling you up.

My wife is Italian and Irish. When we have family dinners, we have Italian food. She will hand roll pasta and make the sauce from scratch. Make the meatballs with salads and charcuterie. My mom and them, we’ll fry the turkey, make candied yams, chicken candy, collard greens, ham, you name it. We have [food from] where she comes from and where I come from. We have it together. It’s a lot of food, but it’s really cool to be able to eat a variety of food from different cultures.

Thanksgiving is important to me because it reminds me of my family. It reminds me of my childhood. The importance of community and being around loved ones. Telling people why you’re thankful for them. It’s also a great excuse to eat a lot of food you grew up eating. Watch sports. Enjoy the holidays by being with family. So, what does my plate look like? I got to have fried chicken, collard greens, baked mac and cheese. Probably get some baked beans. Candied yams. [A] Southern soul food plate and maybe Italian food. Save the Italian food for Christmas. Add some cornbread and call it a day.

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (left) talks with coach Willie Green (right) during the first half of a game against the Chicago Bulls at United Center on Nov. 9 in Chicago.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

I get the most joy in helping others. It’s a really cool feeling to be able to take advantage of the blessings God has given you and be able to help others in different ways.

I’m definitely more settled now. Having a house, understanding my commute to work, knowing how to get to places without having to get a GPS. Everything is much more smooth, much easier to see my son in the morning, change him, feed him, go to practice, come back, and see my son, see my wife. Life is easier. You come home now and you’re not coming home to an empty house. Last season, I was coming home to an empty hotel. Now you come home and wife’s there, dog’s there, son’s there. It’s stable and it’s easier when life is stable and consistent.

Part of being here now is I’m going to establish my community stuff. We are feeding 500 families for Thanksgiving. So [we] provided basically all the things they would need for Thanksgiving dinner. But it’s a really cool organization. I couldn’t be there last year in Portland. I had a family obligation, but this year I’ll be there. They’ll be dancing there with a DJ. It’ll be interactive for kids. It’s like a big party but also giving away food, which is one of the things that I’ve done historically trying to give back to the community, especially around the holidays. So, I’m looking forward to doing that. That’ll be really cool.

I get the most joy in helping others. It’s a really cool feeling to be able to take advantage of the blessings God has given you and be able to help others in different ways. Not just financially, but providing memories, providing moments, provide resources, providing opportunities. It’s just really cool to see like people genuinely appreciating the help, the gestures, the support, the food, the opportunity to be able to have an interactive event where like it’s not just you coming to get something. You can kick it if you want. You can stay. It’s whatever you want to be. I like that type of event. It’s good for the kids. The coolest thing is just some of the notes that I’ve gotten I really truly appreciated from all over Louisiana … [the] 9th Ward saying, ‘Tell CJ we really appreciate this. We’re thankful. He is who he says he is.’ That is the ultimate compliment. Your brand and who you are in the eyes of the public, it matters. You’re judged based on what people think about you. And obviously, I think the world of myself. I try to move a certain type of way. I love how people respect me, how genuine I am and how authentic I am.

It’s always fun playing against the Warriors because of how good they are. The record doesn’t really matter how they’re playing right now. It’s about their history, how they got to this point, the work ethic they put in, their attention to detail, how crisp they have to be. You have to be on point. You got to be locked in. You got to be focused on both ends. They’re struggling this year, but generally they’re a really good defensive team. Offensively, between Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, one can get 50 [points], the other one should probably get 40 on any given night. Dray [Draymond Green] is going to switch all screens. The bench is normally good, so you got to be locked in. You got to be able to switch. You go to be able to communicate effectively. So, it’s always a fun game. I played against him [Green] for years in the playoffs obviously and beyond. So, it’s, it’s fun to play against him and it’s a challenge and you got to be ready, you got to be locked in. And it’s the last game of our homestand.

Steph, Klay, and Jordan Poole are different monsters, right? Steph is off the dribble, he’s off-the-ball movement. More aggressive this year than I seen him in the past. He’s always aggressive, but you can tell he’s taking his game to another notch at [34], which is crazy to think about, right? Averaging over 30 [points], over six rebounds, over six assists on 50-40-90 [field goal/3-point/free throw percentage shooting]. High value. Just had 50 [points] the other night. He’s probably as sharp as he’s ever been finishing around the basket. Handles are precise. It’s like he’s playing against a matrix. So, you got to be locked-in for him. Klay’s moving off the ball, is always a defender and obviously struggling coming off injuries. He has been taking the brunt of the blame from the media in terms of how he’s played. But he’s capable in explosion at any given time. And shooting is one thing that doesn’t leave you. You might have some nights you don’t shoot well, but his DNA is putting the ball in the hole, so it’s only a matter of time before he’s back doing it at a high level. [Jordan] Poole is a combination. A lot of Steph in his game with how he moves without the ball, how he plays two-man game with Dray. Confident. Shoots from range, really good handle, good in-and-out move. So, you got be ready for different games from each player, but they all are deadly in their own way.

I am enjoying my podcast. We’re a few episodes in. [Andre] Iguodala was our last guest. We had a great conversation just about how the NBA game has evolved, how it’s changing and how it looks in the league now and how it looked before. I’m able to get fans inside glimpses of what I’m seeing.

So, who’s on my wish list? Russell Westbrook is on there. Rudy Gobert is supposed to come on soon. Chris Paul. Devin Booker. I like to talk to intellectual guys and also guys that are good at basketball. We have a hoop conversation where we talk about the importance of the game, how the game is developing, how it’s changing, but also what we’re seeing in the game. Lot of guys throughout the league I would love to have on there. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of them.

I have a chardonnay that’s going to be coming out soon. I’m happy with the progress that we’re making. I know my releases are ’23, ’24, ’25. So, you kind of get them in advance. I buy the grapes in advance, which determines when we release them. Obviously, the weather is not something you can control or how much fruit we can produce. We’ve been working on this for a while. Making sure the rollout is ready. The designs have been done for quite some time. It’s been bottled. Now, it’s just about making sure it ages properly and then figure out the timing of the release. Generally, we do it around Thanksgiving.

We actually did a tasting before the season started. [My winemaker] Gina [Hennen], my wife and I and my PR team are just kind of going over the next few wines, what we like, what we like them to taste like, learning more about blanc de blancs, sparkling wines, learning more about chardonnay, learning more about pinots and continue to dive down into this venture in McCollum 91 and our project that we’re building with our vineyard. We just want to continue to hone in on what we’re tasting, how we’re tasting and focus more so on wine education. The property’s coming along well, we’re in the right direction.

CJ McCollum (left) of the Portland Trail Blazers and Kyrie Irving (right) of the Cleveland Cavaliers stand on the court during a game on Jan. 11, 2017, at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.

Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

I’ve been involved with the process [of Kyrie Irving’s Nets suspension] from the beginning. A lot of conversations behind the scenes. Speaking to [NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio] almost every day. Spoken to [NBA commissioner] Adam [Silver]. Obviously, researching this situation. Researching more about the Jewish community, try to educate myself speaking to people with a Jewish background. Learn more about their history, what they’ve gone through. I’ve been watching the History Channel. I’ve been doing a lot of just learning just so I could be better prepared to speak to on it in general. Having grown up with a lot of Jewish friends, like my agent, knowing Adam personally, knowing so many people with Jewish backgrounds, It was important for me to have that dialogue of those conversations. But I think the moral of the story is that Kyrie has apologized. He showed his remorse, he showed empathy. He’s taken steps in the right direction, educating himself, educating others on the importance of not promoting hate. Understanding the importance of not promoting antisemitic behavior.

I don’t support it [in] any way, means or form. I know the NBPA doesn’t. I know our players don’t. I know Kyrie doesn’t. I know Adam has spoken to that. I know [Nets owner] Joe [Tsai] has spoken to that. We’re heading in the right direction where this should be resolved in the future. I’m excited about how we are being able to play basketball again and us being able to put this behind us. But also, being able to use this as a learning opportunity, a learning moment. It shouldn’t have ever come to this. It’s unfortunate that it has, but understanding what you put out is important. Understanding who is affected is important, but also understanding the importance of being able to apologize, being able to admit to mistakes that you may have made, especially when you maybe have offended someone. So, I think it’s important that we all learn from this, especially young players, especially myself.

I get to continue to research not only history of the Jewish population, but the history of the Black population, the history of lots of other people that have gone through different types of social injustice. We all as a community and as a league need to focus in on that. We need to learn more about everybody. We’re in a lot of different rooms with a lot of different people and it’s important that we kind of understand a little bit more of what their history looks like so that we can kind of connect on a different level. I’m looking forward to doing that progress as a man. I think that’s really important.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.