McCollum, Anthony Discuss Strike, Mental Health And Next Steps

by Casey Holdahl
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After practice on Friday, Trail Blazers CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony took questions from the media regarding the Milwaukee Bucks' decision to strike to bring attention to issues of racial injustice and police violence, the rest of the league following suit, their opinions about whether they wanted to continue playing, returning to the court to play the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 (which is scheduled to be played Saturday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Northwest) and what next steps regarding their fight for equality might look like.

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Could you describe where you’re at mentally with everything that has been going on?

CJ McCollum: It’s been a tough 2020, honestly, for me personally, for a lot of people in the world in general. What’s been happening lately, obviously with Jacob Blake and what happened in Milwaukee, what’s continued to happen to black, unarmed men, black and brown unarmed men and women in America is really sad and it’s disheartening. It definitely effects your mood, it effects how you feel from a day-to-day standpoint. Quite frankly, it’s hard to really focus on your job, but I think these last few days we’ve had time to kind of reflect, kind of figure out how we can do better individually. Collectively as a unit between players, the NBPA, the NBA, ownership groups, management, we’ve all time to kind of come together and that was our job, that was our job originally. What we wanted to accomplish was to create change, to continue to create positive impact on society and continue to spread the movement by Saying Her Name and speaking out on all of these things. We kind of got lost -- you heard (Paul George) talk about what he was going through mentally. A lot of guys, being in the bubble, it’s been hard, it’s been difficult. We play games every other day and I think, to be able to have those days to kind of strategize and plot and plan, I think it was helpful. We stood behind the Milwaukee Bucks and continue to stand behind them. We’re really happy with what we were able to come up with in those 48 hours in terms of change that we can make starting tomorrow. Especially starting with voting and then looking at the qualified immunity, so many different things that are out there, the George Floyd bill, some of those things that we can make more people aware of going forward. I’m in a difficult space mentally just like the rest of the world and the rest of the African Americans that are here, but at the same time, I’m trying to get through it just like everybody else.

Was anyone on the Trail Blazers talking about striking before the Bucks decided not to play on Thursday?

CJ McCollum: It was discussed between a lot of different teams. I know being on the executive committee, I know the Boston Celtics, the Raptors, a lot of teams had discussed it, but up until that point, I don’t think any affirmative action was in place. You’ve got to credit them for starting the movement. I think what they did sparked a lot of thought across America and across the rest of the world in terms of what’s going on in America and how we can kind of look in the mirror and figure out, individually, independently, how we can strike the conversation and how to bring about some sort of change.

What is your personal opinion about going on strike and that notion of needing to do something else to make your voice heard?

CJ McCollum: Personally, what we were able to accomplish over the time made it worthwhile. We spread so much awareness, so many different organizations and industries joined in, continue to help spread the word and create awareness. I think a lot of times there’s so many things going on on in our day-to-day lives that we get lost. I’m not a professional activist, I don’t do this for a living but I do care deeply about people and equality, so it’s effected all of us. I think, looking at what we were able to accomplish, was I in favor of leaving? No, I wasn’t because I felt like we have a responsibility and an obligation to use our platforms, take advantage of our situation as NBA players and to continue to try to push this game forward for the next generation while inspiring kids that come from our neighborhoods. If we would have voted to leave I would have been on board with it because, as a member of the executive committee, we have to do what’s best for the masses and in the event that the masses would have decided to leave, I would have done that. But I wanted to make sure everybody was educated on what exactly we were going to do if we left. Were we just going to go home, go back to the suburbs, enjoy the life we live or were we going to try to create some real impact by going to the front lines? So that was more so my thing of, if we do leave, what can we accomplish that we can’t accomplish being here and having these platforms. I think, all in all, it was great to have the conversation. We probably should have had it 50 days ago when we first got here, but to have the governors, to have the NBA, the NBPA and so many different players able to express their feelings in a setting, I think it was very needed and very beneficial for us as a collective.

We’ve heard that the players meeting on Wednesday was heated, a lot of emotions, the Lakers and Clippers were close to perhaps leaving the bubble or at least talking seriously about it. How did you deal with the heat of those discussions and how was that resolved in your view?

CJ McCollum: I think the biggest thing is you have to respect people’s opinions and you can’t tell people how they feel. I think that’s first and foremost. Everyone had a right to want to go home, or has the right to want to go home, and you have to respect that decision. But I think the biggest thing was understanding what was best for the collective, understanding what we could accomplish together as a group being here. The bubble has been proven to work so far in terms of our safety, although COVID is real and it’s been effecting so many different people, we’ve been able to provide a safe space for players and staff alike. So we felt like being able to hear out everybody’s reasons for why they would want to leave and what that looks like in the event that we would have voted on it and everyone would have decided to leave, we would have all left. So I think that’s what people have to understand is that the Lakers and Clippers, they were in the mind frame of wanting to take some time and kind of analyze the pros and cons and figure out what they wanted to accomplish. We were able to kind of collective discuss a lot of different things -- (Chris Paul) did a great job, I’m sure he hasn’t slept in days, like a lot of people, of organizing and continuing to strategize and hear everyone out. Igoudala was huge in that role. Just have to credit everybody for being mature. You’re not going to always agree with each other, it’s not going to always be great chemistry in a room but I think, all in all, we accomplished what we wanted to, got a lot of things done. The biggest thing we’re looking forward to is continuing to impact, have action, try to open up as many arenas a possible, practice facilities, to continue to protect those who are facing voter suppression.

Several reports mentioned your name in conjunction with urging a plan to be in place and talking about needing a plan. How confident are you that there is a plan in place?

CJ McCollum: I’m extremely confident in the plan that we have in place. We’ve talked with professionals and continue to work with professionals and we’ll be hiring a third-party that does this for a living to ensure that we’re able to execute some of the things we’ve put in place in terms of the voting. That’s something we can act on right away. All the ownership groups are in contact with their counties trying to figure out what they can execute from a voting standpoint, opening up arenas and practice facilities and things of that nature. So that’s one action that will directly impact thousands and thousands of people and give them access to voting. Some of the other things that we’re implementing -- I’m sure you’ve seen the press release -- it more so is consistent around spreading the message, taking advantage of ad space, continue to encourage people to vote, continue to encourage people to try to spread equality. And the coalition that we’ve been able to create is something we’re extremely proud of and continue to build, but remind you, we’ve only had 24-48 hours to really discuss these things and put the balls in motion. It’s going to take some time, change happen over time, as we’ve seen, but compared to where we were 30 years ago to today, we’ve definitely made strides and have a long, long ways to go, but we’re happy we were able to kind of sit down and have those discussions, because without the Milwaukee Bucks deciding not to play and us standing behind them, I’m not sure we’d have these same activations in place and these same actionable ideas ready to be acted upon.

With everything going on, do you think you’ll be emotionally into Game 5 and ready to go mentally?

Carmelo Anthony: Emotionally we’ll be ready for that game, mentally we’ll be ready for that game. I’m sure there are guys -- this is a tough situation. No excuses, but what we’re dealing with right now is bigger than basketball. It’ll be very difficult to kind of wrap our minds around everything that’s going on and focus on the things that’s going on that effecting our community and then go out there and play basketball. It’s a thin line between the two but we have to do it. We’ve got to go out there, we’ve got to play and it’s no time to give up now, we’ve got to continue to fight this fight.

In 2016 during a month of police violence and political conventions, you invoked the Ali Summit and a call to action to fellow athletes. You took the stage at the ESPY’s and you said that players were powerful enough to create your own league, but it would require unity and a plan. Have the last few days felt like a culmination of your call to action and that leverage?

Carmelo Anthony: We a long way away from seeing the change and making the change that we really want to see and we really want to make. But with that being said, you have to take small victories as they come, you have to attack issues on a smaller level as they come. For the most part, there’s no telling. We didn’t expect this to happen. We didn’t know we was going to be in this situation, we didn’t know it was going to be stoppage of the games. We didn’t know that, we didn’t expect that. We all working off the fly, all working together trying to figure everything out. So again, I don’t really know what’s going to happen after this, what’s going to come about from this. Again, it’s a daily fight. It’s the unknown that will be sitting with everybody and effecting everybody during this period.

Sixty-five years ago to the day, Emmitt Till was murdered, which is exhausting and embarrassing, I think, all in one. What give you hope that today you can invoke meaningful change?

Carmelo Anthony: When you put it like that, I don’t see the hope. I don’t see the change, 60-something years to this day, of Emmitt Till, and we’re still dealing with that same issue today, Jacob Blake the most recent one. These are things that’s been happening, that will continue to happen. They’ve always been happening, right? Now we seeing it in the palm of our hands, we seeing it on our TV screens, we’re seeing it live and direct and I think that impact of us seeing that and seeing those things happen to people of color, black men in particular, it makes it very difficult. It makes it very emotional, it’s challenging and we all feel like we have to do something, we should be doing something. Whether your race, gender, whatever it may be, it’s time for everybody to say that. Enough is enough. You don’t have to just be black to say that enough is enough. Everybody needs that change and it’s effecting our community at an all-time high right now.

As an individual, what were your thoughts or position in terms of continuing to play in the postseason?

Carmelo Anthony: Look, we got together, we had conversations, we had dialog. We had very open and honest dialog with all the guys that was here. Now was everybody on the same page? No, everybody has they own opinions, everybody has they own feelings and they own things that they stand on and they believe in. But for the sake of this NBA and our players and our union, we decided as a unit to come back and play. Again, we all have our different opinions, our different takes on it, but I think overall, we’re doing it for the greater good of what we have and what we started and what we’ve accomplished and just being able to continue to use our platform and to speak out and bring awareness of a lot of the different issues that’s happening out there in our community. Also along those lines, nobody knows what’s going to happen after this. Again, it’s been dialog, it’s been talk, it’s been conversation, meaningful conversation, but nobody knows what’s going to come out of this. So again, everybody has they own opinion and we here, the games start back tomorrow. Obviously everybody came to an agreement when it came to that.

On top of the social unrest, you guys are kind of captive in the bubble. How are you doing mentally?

Carmelo Anthony: That’s the number one thing. The number one thing is our mental health at the end of the day and I think that’s why you saw the stoppage. Maybe the stoppage should have continued, who knows? But the mental health of the guys that’s here, the workers, the staffs, that plays a major part in what’s going on right now. You have everything that’s going on and we’re dealing with within our own communities, within our own individual families, within our own teams and our own city and then you throw on top of that the mental capacity to be able to handle all of that. We are supposed to be super heroes, we are supposed to be who we are, the best at our job, the best at what we do, the best in the world, but I think people forget at the end of the day, we human. We have to deal with these issues and we do deal with these issues. Just because we’re professionals and play in the NBA, that doesn’t take away from the fact we still have to deal with a lot of these issues, we still have to talk to people who are on the ground and dealing with these issues. Family members, friends, people that we may know, people that we might not know. That’s the fight, at the end of the day. This basketball is just a game, it comes and goes. It’s a sport and it’s not something that, at this moment, it’s hard to put your all into it, especially when you’re not there mentally. So mental health, it’s a key component to what happens down here and I’m sure everybody is going through it. Everybody is probably in they room talking to people and trying to figure out how to figure it out on they own, but I think coming out of this, mental health will be either at an all-time high or an all-time low.

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