CJ McCollum diary: ‘If you’re not excited about the Pelicans, you will be after you watch us play’
In his second season in New Orleans, the veteran guard is settling into the city and the myriad duties he has as an entrepreneur, father and players’ association president
NEW ORLEANS – There is good reason why CJ McCollum is very meticulous with his time and schedule daily.
McCollum is a husband, father, new resident of New Orleans, owns a wine vineyard with his wife Elise in Oregon, is president of the National Basketball Players Association, recently debuted a podcast on ESPN and also is a star guard with the New Orleans Pelicans. The least of the 31-year-old’s worries is success for himself and his Pelicans on the NBA floor as he expects a potential franchise-altering season. Also added to McCollum’s long list of demands on his time is that he will be 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 bring insight to his life on and off the court during his monthly diary this season.
The following is McCollum’s first diary installment as told to Andscape’s Marc J. Spears.
I’m much more comfortable here in New Orleans. I was comfortable when I got here just because of the love and the support and the fact that I was wanted and needed and utilized in a way in which I probably hadn’t been utilized before since college. I was excited about that. And as I got settled in, and I started playing games, practicing, competing, getting to know the guys, going to dinners and stuff, I realized this city was a lot better than I thought. I realized it had a lot more to offer than I thought. I realized that there’s a lot more to this city than Bourbon Street and Canal [Street], or where you stay when you come as a road team. And to be able to see the love, be able to see the energy this city provides, the support, the Southern hospitality, it’s just unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
I’m just thankful to be here. I’m happy. I’m genuinely excited about it. And I said it before, I was excited about the opportunity to play here, to live here, to bring my family here, to be a part of this community, not just on the court, but off the court. And I’m doing all the things I said I would do, and I mean it. It’s not coming from a place of just trying to be liked. I really just enjoy it here and I’m happy here. And more importantly, my wife and my son are happy here. My dog is happy. And it’s been a smooth transition. It’s been a rough one, like being married, having a kid, having to find a lot of resources out here that you were accustomed to having. I was in Oregon for a decade. I had to start over and find a lot of things that I was lacking or that I needed utilized in my household. But once my wife got comfortable, once we are able to find a house, all those things started to make our lives much easier and much more comfortable.
And I’m thankful we transitioned. We actually moved here Sept. 4, the day of the LSU-Florida State [football game] at the Dome. And just to see the energy, the traffic and stuff, it was just a breath of fresh air. The weather’s nice. It hasn’t rained since I’ve been here, which is crazy to think about. It’s the little stuff that you enjoy, being able to walk your dog, being able to go outside. I’ve got a pool in the backyard now. I’ve never had a pool before. Just those little things that I really enjoy. But I think the most happiness comes from seeing my wife be happy. People don’t understand that the human element of a trade: Your family may have jobs, your kids may be in school. Luckily, I had a younger kid. I left when it was his four-week appointment. He was a month old when I left. Because of the trade, he was born Jan. 10, I left Feb. 10, and I put my wife in a tough spot to have a new child and not be able to be present physically because it was better for her to stay with the resources and her job. So, when they got out here and she was comfortable and she was able to find a job and be able to practice dentistry. It made me happy because it’s like, OK, I’ve changed the course of her life and what she can kind of do and accomplish, but now she’s able to still have that happiness and that joy of being able to practice while being a present mom, while being able to support her husband. So, that’s been a cool aspect of the transition.
The basketball is easy. I always tell people, I never worried about the basketball. When I got traded, I didn’t know any plays. I came and played a game. Landed at midnight, played a game at 6 p.m. But I wasn’t ever worried about the basketball because my focus, my determination, my approach, my professionalism, how much I love this game, it’s never been questioned, and it’s never wavered. And that’s easy. That’s the easy part of my life. The rest of the stuff I do is the hard part. The businesses, the life, being the president of the [NPBA], being a husband, being a father, those are the hard things where you have to be strategic with your time and you’ve got to be more present.
Basketball, I don’t have to be present to play basketball. I show up, and the work is the work. You do it. It’s a part of your life. When you’re home, you’ve got to be present. And I think that was the adjustment of balancing all of these things, being a new father, was figuring out how to be more present and figuring out how to balance all those things. The cool part is I’m starting to figure it out. And you never figure out life, but you figure out how to roll with the punches, and I’m going to roll with the punches to where we’re in a cool situation. My wife was at a meeting with our interior decorators, going over rugs [Oct. 6]. People at the house, figuring out what rug we’re going to put down. Things that she really takes pride in and enjoys, I can just kind of sit back and watch and say, ‘The work is not for naught.’ It’s paying off to where I’m still able to see happy moments.
I told y’all I was going to re-sign a long time ago when we talked. You thought I was kidding? I like stability, first and foremost. This place gives me stability, it gives me love, gives me opportunity. Obviously, the team is talented. I’m a piece of that. I’m going to play a hand in their present and their future success. And the ownership, from top to bottom, they did all the things they said they would do, and I’m appreciative of that in terms of them saying, ‘This is what the situation’s going to be like. This is what the team’s going to be like. This is what we’re going to do on the organizational side. We want you to have influence. We want you to have the ability to provide feedback.’ And they’ve done everything they said they would do. The basketball, they said it was going to be like a certain thing, and that’s exactly what I got. And it’s not always like that. You know how it is in the business. You’ve got a job. You don’t always get what you’re promised in life and in sports. And they’ve done that, which has been really cool to see.
My wife is happy. If she didn’t like it here, I wasn’t staying. I love this place, but happy wife, happy life. You know how it goes. So, her acceptance of this place, her being able to say, ‘I like it here. I enjoy here. I want to be here,’ played a role. [General manager] Trajan [Langdon], Griff [executive vice president David Griffin], [coach] Willie [Green], [team owner] Mrs. [Gayle] Benson, the executive staff in the front office played a huge role in wanting me, understanding that I got two years left. They didn’t have to extend me. They chose to extend me. I chose to take a leap of faith. They chose to take a leap of faith. I’m thankful for it and happy, but they know what I provide. They know what I do. They know what I have to offer. And I now have gotten a glimpse of what they have to offer, what they provided, what they do. And I’m happy that we can have a happy marriage and move forward, and we have a chance to do something really, really special, something that this city has never seen before.
I loved my time in Portland. It was great. I loved the guys, the staff, the city. Got married there. Conceived my first child there. I bought land there. I learned about wine there. A lot of firsts there that I’ll remember forever and that will always be a part of my life, but this is a new chapter, the next evolution of me as a person, as a player, as a man. And I’m thankful I get to spend it here. Differences, obviously, are that I’m one of the older statesmen now. I’m 31. Been in the league a long time. Probably had the most success from a team standpoint than anybody on this team. Larry’s [Nance] obviously been in the [NBA] Finals, so Larry and I have the most experience in terms of consistently being in the playoffs. I’ve been there nine straight years. This will be 10. I know what it’s like to play in big moments. I know what it’s like to have success in big moments. I know what it’s like to fail in big moments. I know what it’s like to come off the bench. I’ve played every role. I’ve been DNP [did not play] guy. I’ve been the ‘Give me the ball at the end of the game’ guy. I’ve been a play a role guy, stay in the corner.
So, I think the difference here is that the ball’s in my hands more. Obviously, we’ve got talent. We’ve got Z [Zion Williamson]. We’ve got BI [Brandon Ingram]. We’ve got all-world players, but I’m the decision-maker, the primary decision-maker who kind of controls the chess pieces on the court. I had a little bit of control of the chess pieces on the court, but that was Dame’s [Damian Lillard’s] job. That wasn’t my job. My job was to get buckets, be a backup point guard. I led when I needed to lead, and they all attest to it. I was a good leader. I did what I had to do, but my voice wasn’t the only voice. I was a guy who led by example, who demonstrated things. I come here, they’re looking for me to talk. They’re looking for me to do those things consistently.
I enjoy it. But there’s a saying, ‘You don’t want to be the only voice in the room. You don’t want to be the loudest voice all the time.’ So, sometimes I don’t say anything. I just watch. Coach said, ‘You got anything?’ ‘Nope. Bring it in.’ I’ve got nothing to say today. I don’t want to be the one that’s talking all the time. I talk when I need to. I speak when I need to. As a younger sibling, you understand the importance of that. Sometimes you’ve got to listen and watch, and that’s what I do.
“Healthy habits are important, and I have a lot of good healthy habits, and I’m figuring out how to say no more to good things so I can focus on making the yeses great.”
I’ve got a wine business, McCollum Heritage 91. We launched it in 2020. Bought the grapes in 2016. We put out wine every year. So, pinot noir, chardonnay, rose, released a blanc de blanc on my birthday. We bought a vineyard in 2021 around my 30th birthday with 318 acres in Carlton [Oregon]. We own and operate and [are] planting currently. We planted seven acres. We plan to plant 23 acres next year and then probably another 60 or 70 acres after that. Slowly planning it out, building out a fully functioning wine business from ground to grapes to bottle.
We own a nursery. We sell Japanese maple leafs, hybrids. And are looking at dahlias and some other things. It’s called Ruby Nursery. Ruby was actually the name of my wife’s dog who passed away. So, we call it Ruby Nursery because she likes flowers and plants, which all comes back to my wine bottle, which has the anthurium flower on it. It’s my wife’s favorite flower, and my wife introduced me to wine. So, that’s like full circle.
I’m the president of the National Basketball Players Association, and we’re currently under CBA [collective bargaining agreement] negotiations, as the world knows. So, that’s a very busy job. We’ve had to hire lots of people, including our executive director, Tamika [Tremaglio], including our president of Think450, including other roles within the NBPA. I’m on standing conference calls with lots of people, [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver, Tamika, all the people involved in all my businesses that I’m a part of. All the people that are involved in the businesses that my wife and I are a part of.
I own restaurants. I own real estate. I’m in private equity. I have probably 28 alternative investments outside of the S&P 500. So, I lead a busy life. I’m very active in the things I do off the court. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a son. I’m a brother. So, I’m very busy. My time is important to me. I use it wisely. I get up early, I go to sleep early, and I try to maximize my 9 to 5 and I try to be as present as possible while I’m home with my wife and my son. And this is a tough transition because it’s training camp, it’s moving, it’s a lot going on in our lives, but I’m balancing better. I’m getting the help that I need on the court and off the court, and I think that’s important. Healthy habits are important, and I have a lot of good healthy habits, and I’m figuring out how to say no more to good things so I can focus on making the yeses great.
Fatherhood is the best thing in the world. Nothing can compare to it. It’s the best part of my life. It’s the thing that helps me wake up. It’s the thing that I enjoy when I go to sleep. The highlight of my day is when my son wakes up and when he goes to sleep. Everything in between is just like, it’s a part of your life, but it’s not your life. That’s your life. Your kid, the DNA that you passed down, what you leave to them, what you give to them, those moments, I think it’s the best thing to ever happen to a person. As a person who’s done a lot, I’ve accomplished a lot, I have a nice career. Nothing can compare to your kid looking at you and knowing that you’re their father, that you’re present, that you’re there, that you’re in control of how they survive.
When I got traded — and obviously that situation is what it is — we knew I was leaving, it worked out from both parties. But that was the hardest part of the trade. I wasn’t worried about basketball. I knew that. I’m very good at that. That’s my escape. That’s 90 minutes of freedom I don’t have to think about anything. I just play. But leaving my wife and my son was the hardest part of it all. You start to think ‘I just left my wife and my son to go play a game.’ You think about it like that. So, that was the hard part, I think. But I think as a man, you know your job is to provide. So, that’s what you do. You figure out ways to provide, within reason. You have to ask yourself how much is too much. Am I extending myself too much? Am I doing too much? Can I be home more?’ But then you realize you don’t want to have regrets in this life, right? You want to maximize things you’re great at. You want to maximize your moves while still being able to provide, while still being able to be present. There’s a balance. There’s give and there is take.
But the career trajectory that I have, maximize my prime, extend it. When I’m done, I’m done, and my kid will be able to experience me playing in the NBA, see some of it live. [He] still knows that dad was there, dad took me to school. Dad reads to me every day. Dad brings the ball out and plays with me. Dad sings to me. Dad is always there when he can be. Dad has to go hoop. He’s got businesses he runs. I try to skip stuff while he’s taking his naps. But when he’s able to remember, he’ll know that I was there, and he’ll know that I was present, and he’ll know that I care. And he’ll understand the importance of work. You want to accomplish things in life, you want success, you want to be able to take care of things, you got to work for them.
Oh, I forgot. I’ve got so much s— going on, I forgot I worked for ESPN. Yeah, I signed a deal with ESPN. A dream comes true. My wife signed off on it. That was the one where I brought it to her and I was like, ‘What do you think? I’m doing a lot.’ She was like, ‘If we can strategize and make sure this fits within our lifestyle … I want you to be a present father because that’s what you want. How do we do it?’ So, it was a deal structured in which I still have flexibility to do stuff with my family. Summers, obviously, I cover some of the Finals. I cover Summer League. I have a podcast, The CJ McCollum Show we just launched. Brandon Ingram was the first guest, which was really dope to sit down with BI because he doesn’t really talk to media at all. And he opened up a lot, which was cool.
I always watched SportsCenter growing up. I’m a journalism major, as you know. So, to be able to work for the worldwide leader is dope. To see how it’s operated behind the scenes on how they run the shows. Obviously, I did First Take. I’ve been on Max Kellerman. I’ve done all of those shows, so where I see how it is. I got a taste of retirement. When I retire, what do I want to do? How much do I want to work? What job allows me to have flexibility, freedom, control to where I can still drop my son off and come up? I may have a daughter one day, may have another son. Can I go to practice? So, I had those conversations with JJ [Redick] and certain guys that work within the network before I signed the dotted line.
Shout-out to my guy Jalen [Rose]. I’m a big Jalen Rose fan. I like JJ because of the way he thinks. The Duke stuff is whatever. I don’t like that he went to Duke. But I like the way he thinks. He’s not afraid to stand up to people. He speaks his opinion. He’s brash, but he knows hoop. But he also was a very invested dad and husband. His son Knox, he shouts him out on TV. He’s proud of him, and he’s still present. He has a podcast, Old Man and The Three. How do you do it? How much time do you have? I see you on TV at 8 a.m. Can you still pick your kids up from school?
I’ve planned my life since I was 15. What I wanted it to be like? How old I want to be when I have a kid? What age do I get married? How long do I play in the NBA? How long do I extend my NBA career? What do I do when I’m done? So, I’m thinking about all of these things now so that everything that I do aligns with my wife, my lifestyle, my son, my goals. So, I try to make sure everything is aligned, and it’s not always aligned, but you’ve got to go back to the drawing board and write out what’s really important to you.
I don’t have any concerns about the next collective bargaining agreement. We’ve had some really healthy discussions. We’re headed in the right direction, and the leadership understands where we’re at. We understand where the league is, and the game is in a great place. Look at the game. Look at the amount of money we just made last year, fresh off of COVID. It was $8.9 billion. Look at the league success abroad. How often do you see us playing on TV in different places? How often do you see players from different nationalities, different countries joining our game? We’ve got the Basketball Africa League. We’ve got leagues in Asia and Europe on some of our sports channels here in the States.
The game is in a magnificent place. You’ve got ‘Bron [LeBron James] talking about owning the Las Vegas team. So, I feel like this is going to be a situation in which we’re able to accomplish a lot of things for the betterment of our game.
Tamika and I talk very often, multiple times throughout the week. We have a standing call. We’re always communicating. We scheduled multiple calls to kind of talk about the situation, read through the [Robert Sarver] investigation, what was released, to gain better insight in how we wanted to approach it. Because first, you’ve got to get all the facts. Once you’ve got all the facts, we started talking. What does this mean for our game, for our league, for our players, for the fans? And how do we address it appropriately but swiftly?
She handled herself extremely gracefully, as she always does. Strategic, thoughtful, methodical, understanding what she wanted to accomplish, what we wanted to accomplish in the league, and she spoke on behalf of the players. So, I commend her for handling that situation well, considering that was her first. And ain’t no situation, nothing like that, that’s occurred since the Clippers’ [former owner Donald Sterling].
I was in practice when the news got out about the Sarver report coming out. I got out of practice, I had like seven missed calls. None of them were from my wife, so I was like, this is weird. [Phoenix Suns guard] CP [Chris Paul], Tamika, Adam [Silver]. Name somebody, missed call. So, I didn’t call back because I was figuring out what’s going on first. Go through my texts, I was like, ‘OK, something happened.’ Hit CP back, he’s in practice now. Hit Adam back, he’s in a meeting. I hit Tamika back, she’s in a meeting.
So, I get on the phone with Tamika first. Talk through what happened. Get on the phone with our counsel. Then I get the transcripts of the investigation sent. I’m like, ‘All right, I’m going to read them when I get home.’ I go home. I’m a father. There’s my son, time with my wife. I put my son down. Now, I’ve got a two-hour window. All right. I read through everything. Wow. I see why I had so many missed calls today.
The next day, I’m on schedule. I’ve got PT [physical therapy] when I wake up, I’m with my son. I go into PT. I’ve got to lift. I schedule a call; I speak to Adam. While I’m lifting, I have a call with Adam. We talk through the situation, what he thinks, how do we move forward. Talk to CP. He plays for the Suns. What’s happening? What’s the vibes like? We kind of go through that. Call Tamika again. How do we handle the situation? What can we do within our power? What are the bylaws? What can the NBA do? Get that full picture. How do we respond?
I’m a fact first guy. I didn’t want to just come out and release a statement, because I needed to digest it. Something happened. I didn’t want to just act on impulse. I wanted to be like, OK, let me digest this for a second. Let me make sure I’m coming at this from the right angle. I know how I feel. But this isn’t a CJ matter. This is a league matter. This is a Suns matter. This is an NBA matter. I don’t have control over the outcome.
So, I take some time. We decide we’re going to release a joint statement from the NBA. CP speaks out. ’Bron speaks out. The list goes on and on. Personal, but direct and to the point. Tamika does an interview. So, I don’t do one. Tamika’s like, ‘I’m going to do an interview, we’re going to address it.’ So, I just fall back. She’s speaking on behalf of all of us. Fast-forward, three more calls with Adam, very detailed calls. OK. CBA meeting starts. CBA meeting gets paused. Robert Sarver announces he’s looking to sell his team. We have our CBA meeting, go through everything. Now I get to meet with legal again. All right, I’ll release a statement. Straight to the point. ‘Thank you [Sarver] for realizing this is what’s best for everybody involved. Blessings.’
That was the process. It was a lot of calls, and a lot of strategy, understanding rules, regulations, understanding what’s in the NBA’s power, what happens if they try to vote him out. How many votes do they need? How long does it go back and forth? If they go to court, it’s like impeaching somebody. It’s a back-and-forth. It’s testimony. It’s a lot that the average fan doesn’t know. There are legalities to this. It’s like, you own your house. Somebody can’t just come take your house. They’ve got to take you to court for that house. So, it was a learning experience on the fly. But I commend Adam for releasing the investigation because the NFL would never do that. They don’t release findings. They released 42 pages, 39 pages, whatever it was. So, we got to see a glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes, the process, and the firm.
I wasn’t shocked about the Sarver findings because I read [ESPN reporter] Baxter Holmes’ story. I’ve been in the NBA 10 years now. I know. Common knowledge for the casual. Even a casual fan had probably heard stories about the Phoenix Suns, Robert Sarver. So, I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised about the fact that it was addressed, and it continued to occur. Surprised at the fact that it had gone on for so long. Disappointed, but think about it, I’m a Black man in America. Seeing this is like it’s a Tuesday. It just became public. It’s a part of our life. There are people who use racist remarks. Maybe they don’t mean to be racist, but they’re saying it. There are people who are sexist or chauvinistic or whatever the case may be. So, I wasn’t surprised. It was appalling. It was like, ‘Wow.’ Is it a fireable offense? Absolutely. But who fires the boss?
No clue when Sarver will sell. How long does it take for somebody to raise $3.54 billion? The right person probably has the money, but there’s a vetting process. They’ve got to approve the sale. Who knows how long it’s going to take? But, sooner the better, I would imagine, for everybody.
If you’re not excited about the Pelicans, you will be after you watch us play. We’ve got a good team, young, athletic, the right mix of veteran leaders, experienced players, battle-tested, hungry. Guys who are not afraid. They’re not scared. They’re not ducking nobody. Everybody focuses on the work. They show up, and the work pays off. And that’s the approach everybody has. We’ve got a great coach. Staff is locked in, engaged. Front office is locked in. They’re doing whatever it takes for us to win. We’ve got young studs. We’ve got a galaxy. We’ve got stars. We’ve got planets. We’ve got the right mix of what you need to have success in this league.
Zion, we call him Thanos. He’s special. Explosive, hungry, a competitor, gamer. It’s like him and two other people, 27 [points per game], 60% from the field. Him and two people (at age 20, James averaged 27-7-7 and Luka Doncic averaged 29-9-9). Who are those other two people? Hall of Famers. So, you go to see a young kid who plays like a man, who’s learning. He’s growing. He’s maturing. He’s starting to have a better understanding of life in basketball.
We talk about lots of [expectations] behind closed doors. Our internal expectations are higher than the outside expectations. We focus on the work.
For Willie, I expect to see a lot of growth, comfort. This is his second year as the head coach. A nice roster. A little bit more expectations. More experience. Understanding of what he wants to accomplish. Understanding of our roster, how to get the best out of us, how we’ll respond to adversity. They started off very poorly last year. Finished pretty well. I expect a great season. Willie is consistent as it gets. He’s even-keeled. He’s the same every day, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So, I expect him to be great in his role and to get the best out of us.
I expect BI to be him: consistent, even-keeled, focused on basketball. If you watch my podcast, you’ll see [Ingram’s] personality. He’s just a basketball junkie. He loves basketball. He loves it. Dissects the game, lives the game, breathes the game. I expect him to be the best version of himself and the most locked-in, focused version, because he got a taste of success at the playoff level. He had never been able to play on that stage. He always was good. Nobody knew how good because he didn’t get to play in meaningful playoff basketball moments.
What is [Ingram’s] weakness? What it is it? I don’t know. He can do everything. He can score on all three levels. He can rebound. He can pass. He’s 6-foot-9. He’s a problem, man.
I’ve been watching Victor Wembanyama for over two years. My brother plays in Europe, so I got very familiar with European basketball. And seeing his progress, his growth from what it looked like when he was first working out in Dallas with a trainer, who posted some of the clips. Footwork, skill, poise, work ethic, touch, gracefulness. I see how that translates to real game action where you’ve got rhythm, flow. Playing in Europe, playing in the States, it’s a different game. Different amount of minutes. He’s special, man. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. His ability to do the important skills in basketball is unlike anything we’ve seen from someone that tall. He makes seven-footers look small. But he can shoot. He can dribble. He got footwork. He can play pick-and-roll. He can block shots. Whoever gets that first pick is going to be lucky.
I like the food in New Orleans, the people, the weather, sports. I feel like I need to find some live music, some live jazz date night spots I can go to. Some places where I can listen to good music and escape to be able to relax and vibe out. Other than that, I’m just looking forward to getting back to the playoffs and playing in front of all these fans. It’s going to be dope. I’ve been to a Saints game. I’m going to go to an LSU game.