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CJ McCollum diary: ‘This is happening far too often in our society’

The New Orleans Pelicans guard was instrumental in creating message from players’ union about police beating death of Tyre Nichols

NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Pelicans had a moment of silence before Saturday’s game against the Washington Wizards to commemorate the life of Tyre Nichols. Memphis, Tennessee, authorities released a video Jan. 27 of police officers brutally beating the African American motorist with batons, kicks and punches while he screamed for his mother. The National Basketball Players Association also posted a statement on Friday about the “horrible tragedy,” stating that it mourned the loss of Nichols. The NBPA extended condolences to Nichols’ family, stood by the arrest of the officers and said that “such aggressive policing and force illustrate the continued need for accountability in the justice system.”

Pelicans guard and NBPA president CJ McCollum joined forces with NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio in helping put together the statement from the players’ union about Nichols.

“Tamika and I were in conversation throughout the process,” McCollum told ESPN’s Andscape before the Pelicans’ loss to the Wizards. “We had consistent dialogue as to how we wanted to approach it. Obviously, understanding the severity of this situation and with respect to the family, how that would, how this situation has impacted them. We wanted to make sure we had a statement and we show support to the family and obviously understand this is a situation that should have never occurred. This is happening far too often in our society. Unarmed Black men, unarmed minorities in general, are being targeted consistently or [are] consistently being affected by this.”

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 NBPA president 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 fourth diary installment as told to Andscape’s Marc J. Spears in which he talks about his experience being racially profiled by police, his hopes of becoming a first-time NBA All-Star when the reserves are announced Thursday, his NBA All-Star starter teammate Zion Williamson saying that he should be an All-Star, too, the current struggling state of the Pelicans, his newfound love for soul and hip-hop vinyl and much more.

I had some situations when I was younger being racially profiled, getting pulled over. And even in Oregon, I got pulled over a few times in the neighborhood I live in. The police are asking me where I’m going. Why am I going fast? And I was obviously not in a hurry because I know the area and [had] been there long enough to know the speed limit in these types of areas. Cops are always there. Whose car is this? Those types of questions. And my initials are on the back license plate of one of my cars. It’s unfortunate. But luckily, I was able to show them my license and get away with it. A lot of people aren’t that fortunate.

I get nervous to this day and I’m not doing anything illegal. Everything I’m doing I’m supposed to be doing. It’s my car. I’m driving from practice or driving from the arena on the highway. And you just naturally get a little nervous when a cop pulls up. Even if they don’t pull you over, you just naturally get a little nervous. And I think that’s an issue and itself that we [African Americans] get nervous. And I’m sure they have some of the same nervous energy as well. And that’s just a sign that we got a lot of work to do in our community. We got a lot of work to do.

New Orleans Pelican guard CJ McCollum (left) talks with Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (right) after a game Jan. 2 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Zion was far too kind. I appreciate that. I think he sees the work, he sees how hard I work, how serious I am about this game, what it means to me, what winning means to me, and what I’m willing to do in order to accomplish that, that appreciation for my game. I think my peers respect me. I’ve always said that my peers respect my game. They’ve seen me play for a decade now and understand the impact that I have on this game and how my skill set has complemented the teams that I’ve played on.

And I think there’s a lot of players that are worthy of being an All-Star every year, and there’s some guys that get left out every year that are snubbed and there’s only enough room for so many people. And historically, I unfortunately haven’t been able to make it. But the guys that have made it over me have been willing and deserving. You talk about a bunch of first-ballot Hall of Famers, right? You got Curry, Klay, Dame. Top 75, right?

The list goes on and on. James Harden when he was in the West, you’ve got Luka [Doncic], you got all of these guys who are Hall of Famers, right? So, if I’m not going to make it, I can say that I didn’t make it because of a lot of Hall of Famers that were playing in the same position as me. But I think, at some point, I will make it. I think I am deserving based on what we’ve accomplished this year as a team, and I think there’s a lot of other guys that are deserving as well. And the role that I’ve had to play this year is probably different than any other role with the injuries and the things that we’ve gone through and how I’ve had to take my game to another level.

All in all, it’s a blessing to even be mentioned in the conversation. And the fact that I mentioned seven, eight straight years means that I’m doing things the right way, means that I’m involved in winning, contributing towards winning. And I think, at some point, it would be cool to receive that acknowledgement and to have that stamp as an All-Star-caliber player. But I think some stuff is out of your control. All I can do is try to stay healthy and try to help my team win and be the best version of myself, and the rest is on the coaches across the NBA and people that vote.

That would mean a lot to get that All-Star call, man. It would be a really cool moment for my family. The sacrifice that goes into this sport, the time that it takes. You have a great appreciation for the game, what it’s able to do for your family. But that would be a special moment that I would be very thankful to receive if that were the case. I think I would be very appreciative of it, and it would be something that I wouldn’t take for granted.

I think it’s something that a lot of players appreciate when they’re there. I’ve been at All-Star, I’ve done the 3-point contest, I’ve done the skills [competition], watched the games, and it’s the best players in the world playing in that setting where I think it’s just a really cool setting and cool situation to be with your peers and to be amongst the elite of the elite.

I’m going to be at NBA All-Star weekend [in Salt Lake City] no matter what. I got some CBA [collective bargaining agreement] meetings and things we got to go through from a union standpoint where I’ll be there. I’m going to try to get to the HBCU game on Saturday. But, yeah, I’ll be out there. My wife and I are going, for sure.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (left) high-fives CJ McCollum (right) during the second half of a preseason game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on Oct. 4, 2022, in Chicago.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

I would say this is the most unique position we’ve been in probably since I was traded here, to be honest. Where we had some success, things were going well for us early – 1 seed, 2 seed, playing around at 3 seed for a while – and then we lose 11 of 14, two of our last 10, five in a row, I think. I’m losing track. A lot of injuries, a lot of guys that are out of the rotation. The trade deadline’s coming up. So I think there’s just a lot of uncertainty right now for a lot of younger guys in terms of the workload, in terms of what they’re going through physically and mentally hitting that halfway point of the season. It’s a lot. And I think we’re close to the other side, and really talked about struggles bringing out character, triumphs. When you have to go through different types of things, it really shows what you’re made of. And we’ve had to go through a lot and we’re almost to the other side of the fire.

We got a lot of second-, third-year players. I think the guys that have been the league a long time understand what comes with this, and it’s just a tough part of the year that you have to deal with and get through. But the cool part about it is that, if you are being mentioned in trade rumors, that means you have value and it’s important to have value in this league, and it’s important to be wanted by more than just your team. And I think as you get more mature and as you grow, you learn the importance of that.

BI [Brandon Ingram] is back now, Z [Zion Williamson] hopefully will be back soon, hopefully Dyson [Daniels] is back and we’ll finally be whole again and have a full roster to really utilize and grow together. And I think this is a good situation for us to be in and have to go through at this point in the year because we’ll be better off down the stretch of the season because of this, right? I think it builds the right type of character, the right type of hunger and the right type of appreciation for what it takes to win at this level, because it’s hard.

[I’m] Extremely happy for [Zion], and he deserves it [All-Star selection]. He worked hard to get back to this point, and I just think about the last 365 days for him. What he went through this time last year, what he went through when I was traded. And they’re asking me if I’ve talked to him and we’re kind of going through that process, and people talking about he’s not a good teammate, he’s not this, he’s not that. And the whole time, he’s just working behind the scenes on himself, becoming a better man, becoming a better basketball player, becoming a better teammate.

For him to make that turnaround – from missing a whole season with an injury to coming back, signing a new deal and delivering the way he’s delivered so far – is a testament to his work ethic, it’s a testament to his mental resolve, and it’s a testament to one of the things coach [Willie Green] talked about today. The aura of this team, the aura of this organization, the fact that we are all blessed in different ways and figuring out ways to utilize our abilities while overcoming obstacles is what he’s showing not only to our team but the rest of the world.

And I’m happy for him, man. I know what this means to him. I know what this means to his family. I know what it’s like to be hurt. I know what it’s like to go through that struggle mentally of, ‘Will I be the same when I come back? How will I come back?’ So, the accomplishment that he’s made so far and the strides he’s made are well deserved. And I told him it’s a testament to team success. The better your team is, the more people will appreciate and reward you individually. And I’m happy he’s getting his flowers.

I got a 1-year-old now. To be able to spend that time with him was something I’ll never forget. The first birthday, my wife came out to Boston. We were out actually on the road and able to have the cake in the room. Him crawling around, seeing the excitement and joy that he has every day, the fact that he just lives and exists. He doesn’t really know what’s truly going on in this world. He doesn’t know what’s going on in our day-to-day lives. He just sees us and he’s happy, and he makes us happy and he’s the focal point of our lives. And to be able to celebrate him and be able to spend time with him on his birthday, it’s something that I’m thankful for and something that I’ll probably always remember, regardless of how old he gets and how old we get.

It’s the coolest job in the world, man. It’s the job that gives you understanding. It’s the job that gives you purpose. You know, try to figure out your why throughout life. Why do you do certain things? And a lot of things that you thought were important aren’t really important anymore. Your family and your son, their future and how you mold them and what type of positioning you put them in in the world is most important. The time that you spend with them, those mornings, those nights, changing diapers, feeding them, being able to walk with them outside in the park, taking them on walks, playing with them, all those things are priceless. And I think it gives you the most joy, the most peace, the most purpose.

You love your wife, you love your mom, your dad, you love your friends, your family. But I think the love that you have for your kid is just unbelievable. The feeling that you have, the presence that you have around your kid, it just takes love to a different level that you probably didn’t even know was possible. And I think that’s the type of love we share with our son. It’s just a type of love where you like your sleep, but you’ll sacrifice your sleep, you know what I mean? Things that you would normally not sacrifice, you’ll sacrifice in a heartbeat.

From left to right: Larry Nance Jr., Dyson Daniels and Trey Murphy III help CJ McCollum up during a game against the Utah Jazz on Dec. 13, 2022, at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City.

Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

I talked about what I was getting for Christmas and I got the vinyl [player]. Yeah, I got the Sonos whatever it’s called. I actually went to Peaches and picked up a bunch of vinyls. I picked up some gems. I picked up Al Green, Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On? Diamond Life, Sade. Fugees. I got the Ultimate New Orleans Brass Band, which was a gift from the lady at Peaches. I got some J Cole, I got some Minnie Riperton, Come to My Garden; Louis Armstrong collection of hits. Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Velma Middleton, Bing Cosby, Frank Sinatra, Danny Kane. I got [the] Our Orleans benefit album, that just kind of shouts out the importance of New Orleans and the music that was originated from here. Miles Davis, I got Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, “Someday at Christmas.” And then I got another Bing Crosby, Merry Christmas, because my wife loves Christmas music, so we got some of those to play on the record player.

The actual record player was a gift from my wife for Christmas, along with the Sonos speaker to connect to it. And then we had a date where we went to lunch and then I went to Peaches and spent some time in there picking out albums and just going through what type of vibes I was looking for originally to start. And it’s just very therapeutic to just be able to listen to music, zone out, vibe out. I get my treatment while I’m listening to music. Sometimes I just sit there and drink water or wind down after a game before I pack. I’m definitely going to do it, put something on while I pack, probably some Al Green, and then I’ll switch to Minnie Riperton while I’m packing for this next trip, just to enjoy the music, enjoy the rhythm, enjoy the fact that there’s a lot of great artists and founders of music that started the trend of great music and now we take that into today’s society and I just want to appreciate what they’ve done.

And it takes me back to my childhood too. My aunt used to play her record player a lot, may she rest in peace. And the vibes and the nostalgia that you get from it is unlike anything that I’ve felt from music in a while.

I’m still learning about it [New Orleans music], but I have been playing some of the brass music. We love a good brass band in our household and love good jazz rhythm & blues and have a great appreciation for that in general. So that’s why I was really happy to get the collection for my vinyl. So, I kind of go through it, learn more about the history, but also [there’s] nothing like a smooth jazz at times. It just soothes your mind, soothes your soul. And today’s society is so hectic, right? You on the go, you on the move. I got a lot of titles, a lot of different jobs and a lot of different responsibilities. But during those times, I can just kind of wind down, relax, let the music take control and just vibe.

I’m at that stage in my life where I’m at peace with whatever happens for the rest of my career. I work as hard as I can, I dedicate myself and I know that what’s for me will be for me and that God’s plan is better and bigger than any plan I could try to conjure up. And I’m comfortable with my body of work while striving for more, while working for more. And I understand that, at the end of the day, I’m doing my job to the best of my ability. I’m utilizing all the resources around me, I’m utilizing my time as efficiently as I possibly can, and I’m helping impact winning at an organization that I just got to less than a year ago. And I can see the changes that we’re making collectively. I can see the changes and the impact I’ve had collectively on this organization, this city and this team.

And if, by the grace of God, I am in that position to be elected as that [an All-Star], I will embrace it and be thankful for it and give thanks, first and foremost, to the man above, but also to my staff, to the teammates, to the organization, to the fans and the coaches who recognize and appreciate my game. And if I don’t make it, I will have the same approach that I’ve always had just to work hard, continue to figure out ways to help your team win and lock in for the second half of the season so that we can try to make a real playoff run and give the fans what they deserve here in New Orleans.

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.