On The Eve Of His Return, CJ McCollum Discusses The Trade, Life In NOLA, His Relationship With Damian Lillard And Managing Business From Afar

More than anything, CJ McCollum just wants to sleep in his own bed again. 

As is common for most players in similar situations, the 6-4 guard in his ninth season out of Lehigh has been living out of a hotel since being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, along with Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell, in exchange for Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, Tomas Satoransky a 2022 1st round draft pick prior to the 2022 NBA trade deadline. So while he's looking forward to seeing his former teammates, coaches, staffers, friends and business associates he made over the course of eight-plus season in Portland, he's most excited about having a bit of time to spend with his wife, Elise, newborn son, Jacobi, and his dog, Fiona, in the comfort of his home in West Linn. 

But before McCollum makes his return to West Linn and Moda Center for Wednesday's game between the Pelicans and Trail Blazers (tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m. on ROOT Sports and Rip City Radio 620 AM), he took some time out of his schedule watching both the men's and women's NCAA Tournament to discuss his thoughts on the trade nearly two months later, how he likes living in New Orleans, how he views his career in Portland, his relationship with Damian Lillard and some of the good times they had off the court, managing his business portfolio from a distance and what part of his return he's looking forward to, besides the cozy accommodations. 


Anyone reading this surely read your great piece in Players Tribune, but now that you’ve had even more time to reflect on the trade, which sent you, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell to New Orleans, how do you look back on it? Every trade is difficult, but being traded from the only team you’ve played for, even if you had a hunch it was coming, seems like it might be a bit different.

CJ McCollum: I was excited. Excited about the opportunity to go where I was wanted, where I was needed, I was excited to be a part of the process and thankful. I know that’s not normal, it doesn’t happen like that all the time. Mixed emotions, you know what I mean, because you’re excited about the change but then also going through trades is tough on not only you as a person -- your mental, your physical -- but also your family. So that was the hard part. Obviously I’ve got relationships with players and staff and the team and I miss them and that was hard to leave, but it’s harder to leave my wife and my son. That was the tough part.

The comfort of being somewhere for so long, getting used to everything -- the drive, the restaurants, the people, the places you go, the routine, everything becomes a part of your normal, day-to-day routines, so just anxious about the change. Anxious about what it’s going to be like, the city, how my family is going to react and those types of things.

When you work for a team you always think about the non-basketball side of things when it comes to trades. I think we all kind of knew that a trade was possible, maybe even likely, and still my first thought was “They just had the baby, Elise just finished her residency, they just bought that spread outside of Carlton.” How did you manage that side of being traded?

CJ McCollum: It went well. It was tough but having the conversations behind the scenes with my wife to kind of prepare, lining things up for what it looks like during the transition, what we’re going to do. We planned. Obviously it never goes exactly as you planned it, but she was mentally and physically preparing, kind of getting things in order for me to be gone for a little bit and figuring out when they would come down (to New Orleans). Obviously Little Man was three weeks and five days when I got traded, I left when he was four weeks old, right after his four week appointment, so that was tough, but it’s a part of the business.

We kind of knew what to expect and were just thankful that we were a part of the process in that I was going somewhere we were all comfortable, where she was comfortable. She’s a dentist, she has her own life, she has a job in Oregon -- she obviously won’t be working it after this year, at least during the season, so we have to kind of work on that transition. Find a pediatrician, nannies, all of that stuff. But for the most part, it’s been as smooth as it could be. The city is great, they’ve been really good to be, the team has been great, the organization, the fans. And I’ve been good to them, so it’s been a happy marriage, for sure.

New Orleans is a bit like Portland in that it’s not a huge market, not usually a team that draws a ton of interest from free agents, but once players get there, they generally seem to like it.

CJ McCollum: It’s different when you’re a visitor. People don’t probably think there’s much to do in Portland, right? They probably don’t think it’s very enjoyable because when they come it’s raining. But having been here, I have a restaurant list, obviously they have a big French influence here. You have tons of things to celebrate, there’s some type of celebration literally every week.

But just the people, the culture, the weather, it’s been really cool, I’ve really enjoyed it. My family was here, they loved it here. It’s 75, 80 degrees (laughs) and you have every type of cuisine you could every imagine and I play basketball for a living. I’m indoors playing a sport, walk outside to my car, go back indoors, occasionally get an off day, so it’s like, I didn’t truly understand what I was getting into, to be honest with you. I had only heard people talk about it, and having been here, having lived here for two months, I have a really good appreciation of what New Orleans has to offer, not just off the court but on the court.

In regards to your career as a Trail Blazer, obviously the team never reached the ultimate goal of winning a championship, but you were a part of so many great moments over the last decade, just so many great memories. So how do you leave Portland in terms of how you viewed your time here?

CJ McCollum: I look back at it as a great learning experience and a great part of my life, one that I’ll always remember and cherish. I came in a young man and I left as a grown man with a lot of life experiences on the court, off the court, in the community. Obviously the success we had stemmed from hard work, building culture, building team chemistry, building a standard. In terms of what we accomplished, obviously we wanted to win a championship and we didn’t, but a lot of teams don’t and the teams that we lost to generally were championship caliber teams -- besides, ironically, the Pelicans.

I think we had a really good run, we made the most of our situation, made the most of the opportunities that were presented to us considering our team, our roster and the teams that we were facing. I think fans can generally be happy with what we were able to accomplish. Obviously falling short of a championship, but realizing that a lot of things got to go right for you to win a championship, including health, including luck, including execution and talent. You have to have the combination of things go well generally for a season and especially at the right time during the playoffs. And as we’ve seen, you can be a really good team and have injuries at the wrong time and that kind of ruins things. Or you can just have unfortunate luck or timing.

I wanted to ask you about your relationship with Dame. You were friends before you were drafted by the Blazers, I assume you’ll remain friends regardless of who you’re playing for. What has that relationship meant to you, both professionally and personally, and where it might go now that you’re no longer teammates?

CJ McCollum: Dame is my guy, he’ll always be my guy regardless of what team I’m playing on, what city I live in. Obviously from a communication standpoint we’ll always be friends and talk, watch each other play. When he comes back I’ll watch the games. When he comes back and they’re whole again, I’ll continue to watch and support him. The relationship was unique because we were friends and also teammates, so we’ll never have that same level of interaction because life is busy. We’ve got families and we’re in two different timezones with two different schedules now.

But obviously it was a cool part of my life where we were same city, same team, same bus ride, same workout schedule, it was a really good moment in our lives, one which we’ll cherish. It grew on and off the court and it will continue to grow, but just in a different way now that we’re much, much farther apart and in different situations.

When I interviewed Dame about his thoughts on the trade and his relationship with you he told a great story about you being mistaken about what Mark Mason says during pregame introductions. So this is your chance to tell a story about Dame if you got one... or even a couple.

CJ McCollum: Hmm... let me think for a second. I’m trying to think about one that I can actually tell. Basketball-related or life-related, there’s like nine years of stories.

Okay, I’ll tell the Vegas story then (laughs). So, two fold. This is like early, early years in our careers, two stories.

So we used to go to Vegas all the time. Summer time, we used to go to Vegas. This story might have already been told, the Exit Row story. We used to fly to Vegas, exit row, almost every weekend, like Thursday or Friday. September, we’d go like three weekends in a row before the season starts and we would always fly exit row or Southwest. We’d be going through the back of the plane and it would be so funny. I remember him saying, I was like “I know why I’m flying back here, why are you flying back here?!?” And he’s like “I’m not spending all that money just to get there at the same time as everybody else!” And I laugh about it because we were just so cheap, I don’t know what we’re saving, maybe $600, $700 depending on the upgrade level. And I used to always think like, one day we’re not going to be doing this, and now we fly private and stuff and I just think it’s hilarious how far we’ve come.

Another part of that Vegas story is that, I remember we went out one night but we’d always schedule like, 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. workouts. I don’t know why we’d do that in Vegas, but we did. And I remember thinking “There’s no way we’re going to make it to this workout tomorrow.” Obviously we did, we made it to the workout and it was probably one of the worst workouts I’ve ever had. Like, it was a great workout but I just felt terrible. Dame felt terrible, I think Tim Frazier was with us. It was a funny but terrible workout. We lifted with Todd (Forcier), workout with DV (David Vanterpool), this was in DV’s era. And I just remember thinking to myself I’ve got to get through this workout because I’ll never hear the end of it from DV and the rest of them if we don’t get through it. We were all thinking the same thing. We finish the workout -- I don’t know how we finished that workout, to be honest with you -- get back to the hotel and Dame speed walks off (laughs). Everybody is trying to get back to their room. Long story short, Dame doesn’t make it to his room, he ducks off to the bathroom.

Second part of that story is there was another night, maybe it was another trip, can’t remember if it was the same trip or not, in which we were all supposed to go out. But we had been working out like 6, 7 a.m. throughout the trip. We were all going to go out, I got dressed and I was so tired I fell asleep fully clothed and never made it out. My phone is always on silent so I never told them I wasn’t coming, I just didn’t show up. I hit ‘em at like 5 a.m. when I woke up because I slept from like 10 to 5 like, I’m finna sleep, I didn’t make it. I just thought that was indicative, a fun summary of no matter what we did, we always put our work in. We always made sure we got our work in, but I was working so hard I fell asleep fully clothed with my shoes and my chain on.

One more story since I’m telling stories about Vegas. We used to go out to eat -- I can’t remember what the name of the restaurant was but I’m not an investor so I don’t even care. It was all of us, we all live on our phones. We’ll be at dinner together -- I’m sure you’ve seen it -- and everybody with their phones out, iPad watching the game on League Pass or whatever, you’re on your phone, might be watching another game or whatever. I was having a conversation and no one was listening or responding to me and when no one listen I just say “Good talk.” Or like “I’ll just go (ahem) myself,” I’ll say something like that. So I say that, no one responds, a table of like seven of us, a couple of Dame’s partners are there, me. I stand up from the table, I back away, I take a picture of everybody at the table, I come back to the table, I sit down and text it to everybody because everybody is ignoring me (laughs). They obviously look up like “Did you just take this?” I said “Yes, I been talking to y’all and no one has responded to me!”

Also ask Dame who told him he needed to start taking naps. I told him he needed to start taking naps and he finally did it.

I remember that, for some reason he was very adamant that he did not need to take naps.

CJ McCollum: Exactly, like, what are you doing? And he started taking naps and he’s like “Yo, look alive, I’ve been taking naps lately.”

From your old teammates to your new teammates. How has joining the Pelicans in the middle of a playoff race gone so far? From the outside looking in, it seems like you’ve provided exactly what they’ve needed from a positional perspective, from a skill perspective, from a leadership perspective. It really seems like you’ve been a catch-all for them.

CJ McCollum: It’s going well, really well. I was what they needed, probably what they wanted and they were exactly what I needed and what I wanted, so it’s been ideal. As the saying goes, a match made in heaven, it’s been a really, really good situation.

They’ve been able to provide me with stability, a role which I can thrive in, a lot of young players around me obviously, young, talented players. And I obviously have a veteran presence now having been in the league for a while, so I can be a leader when I need to be a leader, but I can also allow the younger players to be the best versions of themselves, which is also great.

For my family, they’ve been super supportive, super helpful, super genuine, nice. Off the court, making sure everything is in order. The love the fans have shown has been great. And the basketball part, it’s been fun. I’ve been the best version of myself, I’ve played the game the way I know how to play at an elite level consistently and efficiently and been effective. Hopefully we get to the playoffs so that you guys lose your draft pick.

I knew that was coming. I know you want to make the playoffs because you want to make the playoffs, but knowing you, knowing how you operate and see things, I bet that’s a little bit of extra motivation.

CJ McCollum: It doesn’t NOT motivate me, not that I need motivation.

You were very involved in the community through Boys & Girls Club, CJ’s Press Pass program and a host of other initiatives. But you also have a number of business interests in Oregon as well, up to and including the large plot of land you bought to develop in wine country. How do you go about managing those those interests when you’re in New Orleans?

CJ McCollum: I’ve been thinking about this for five years. I was prepared for this, I understood that I might not be in Oregon forever. I understood that this may be my last season in Oregon as I was going through the process of preparing to purchase a vineyard. So this has been a smooth transition, a smooth process for me because I have the right things in place, the right people in place. I already have a vineyard manager, a farm manager and in the process of hiring a vineyard management company now. I’m actually planting seven acres in the next two or three weeks. Once we get a stretch of no rain, we’ll begin planting. That’s phase one of the project. Phase two will be planting 23 acres in 2023, which I’ve already purchased the vines to be planted, they’re clearing the land now to get ready for that process.

I’m a businessman, I understand how businesses work, I understand how they’re ran, I understand that you don’t have to be there to run them. There’s a lot of McDonald’s in the world and the owner isn’t there every day. It’s just a credit to the team I’ve been able to surround myself with and the process, but also understanding that I went through COVID, which was unique and not ideal from a business standpoint, but it also taught you how to work remote in terms of tasting, the virtual conversations I have to have in terms of how to build a business out.

I was prepared for this. The show is going on, the show must go on. I’ve got wine going on sale next month that will sell out, obviously, now that I’ve got two fan bases. And one fan base here who is big on partying, that won’t be an issue at all and I will continue to go through the process of building out my master plan. When the season ends I will be back in Oregon so we’ll kind of go through that process, I’ll be meeting with my wine advisors to kind of build out my vineyard and my master plan for the next three to five years, then five (years), 10 (years) and beyond. I will still continue to put out wine, I’ve got a lot of wine that the world doesn’t know about that will be put out soon. I’ve been working on labels, I’ve got some new wines that I haven’t released yet to the public in terms of stuff that’s already been bottled. The portfolio that the vineyard puts out is going to be spectacular. There will be a tasting room, there will potentially be a chateau on the property, there’s going to be a lot of cool things that we’re working out that we’ll release later on to the public. But the world should know that they vineyard is being built out, will continue to be built out and the wine will continue to be sold everywhere.

Before we wrap up, what are you looking forward to about your return to Portland? Do you have any expectations about what the response will be? How do you think it’s going to go?

CJ McCollum: First and foremost, I’m looking forward to sleeping in a bed in my home instead of at a hotel. So I’ll look forward to that, seeing my wife, my son again, my dog, so that’ll be the first, best part about the return. And then I think it’ll be cool, kind of awkward and weird going through the visitors entrance. I don’t even know what the visitors locker room looks like, so that will be kind of weird. Shootaround at the arena will be weird.

But I think it’ll be cool to get this out the way, get a game in and kind of put this behind us so we can stop talking about it, move on with our lives. I think the fans will enjoy it, especially considering the type of season they’ve had to go through, so this will be cool with all the injuries that happened. Something to make things more interesting, so to speak.

It’s going to be cool, I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to seeing everybody, seeing my guy Todd (Forcier), all the players, obviously the big fella Nurk, Ant, Dame, some of the staff I’ve worked with over the years, Miss Cheri (Hanson), Lady Jess (Cohen), (Geoff) Clarke, it’s going to be really cool to see everybody, my guy Charles (Loftis). I’m looking forward to that aspect of it, a lot of friends and family will be there, a lot of my business partners will be there. That’ll be cool for me. Obviously it would have been nice to play against a lot of my old teammates, but another time.