McCollum Takes Injury In Stride Even As Timeline Changes
Sometimes, when living through a pandemic that has forced many people to spend almost all of their time at home, a week can often feel like it lasts for a month.
That phenomenon took on a whole new meaning for Trail Blazers fans waking up Tuesday morning to text and Twitter alerts about one of their teams’ best and most beloved players.
After it was announced earlier in the week that CJ McCollum would miss as little as a week with a left foot sprain, the team announced late Monday night that additional tests revealed a small fracture in his foot, an injury that would sideline the Lehigh grad for at least four weeks.
“It’s just some bad timing, terrible timing,” said McCollum Tuesday afternoon. “But there’s nothing I can really do about it. I work hard and take care of myself, I put a lot of time in, I put a lot of effort into my body and this is one of those situations where there’s not much I could have done.”
The injury occurred in the first quarter of Portland’s 112-106 victory versus the Atlanta Hawks at the Moda Center on January 16. McCollumn’s left foot was stepped on by Atlanta center Clint Capela, listed at 6-10, 240 pounds, as he was trying to contest the attempt at the rim. What’s more, it wasn’t as if Capela simply tapped on McCollum’s foot, he landed right in the middle of it with the full weight and momentum of his body, prompting the guard to spend the next few minutes hobbling around the during the ensuing timeout.
After going to the bench initially, McCollum returned to the game and would go on to score 16 points in 19 minutes. But once he got back to the locker room during the halftime break, it became apparent that he would have to sit out the rest of the game, and probably at least a few more after that.
“It hurt but I’ve broke by foot twice, so I know what that type of pain feels like,” said McCollum in reference to the Jones fractures he suffered in his left foot both in his senior year at Lehigh and his rookie season in Portland. “It wasn’t that type of pain, wasn’t that type of injury on that part of the foot.”
So when initial x-rays and CT scans showed no fractures despite the considerable impact and McCollum’s history of foot injuries, it felt like Portland, a team that had just lost starting center Jusuf Nurkic for two months to a broken right wrist, dodged a bullet. It wasn’t good news by any stretch, but relative to what many Blazers fans have come to expect over the years with regard to injury, not exactly devastating either.
But that feeling of relief would be temporary, as an MRI taken Monday showed a small hairline fracture to the lateral cuneiform in McCollum’s left foot, a fracture that both the x-ray and CT scans missed. While the fracture only requires the wearing of a walking boot rather than surgery, it will cause McCollum to miss at least the next four weeks, four times as long as either he, the team medical staff and fans initially thought.
“Maybe if I had done a left-handed layup he wouldn’t have fell on top of me,” said McCollum. “But it is what it is. I think I’m at the point in my life where control what you can control. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. I live a good life, I’m still going to live a good life and this is something I Can overcome with some time and some rest. It’s tough for me, it’s tough for our team, we’ve already lost some players due to injury so it’s not ideal, but life is never really ideal. Just have to trust in the word, trust in the preparation and continue to follow God’s plan.”
Which, regardless of your thoughts on divinity, is a perspective Trail Blazers fans should attempt to emulate. After all, this is the third time in the last decade that McCollum has suffered an injury at the most inopportune time. The first time, he broke his left foot 11 games into his senior season, potentially throwing his draft stock into a downward spiral after leading the Mountain Hawks to an upset over perennial powerhouse Duke in the NCAA Tournament the year prior.
Despite the injury, McCollum would go on be selected by Portland with the 10th overall pick of the 2013 Draft, though he’d break his left foot again a few months later in training camp, ending his rookie season before it ever really had the chance to start.
And while his most recent left foot injury isn’t the same nor as severe as the first two, it is just as poorly timed, as McCollum was playing easily the best basketball of his career. Though he typically gets off to relatively slow starts, the 6-3 guard was averaging 26.7 points on 47 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from three, 5.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 33.8 minutes per game, often carrying the Trail Blazers to victory. It was early, but an All-Star bid, the first of his career, seemed well within reach.
However, missing at least the next month of games all but scuttles that opportunity for McCollum. And his injury, along with the injury to Nurkic, makes Portland’s path to their eighth-straight postseason appearance all the more difficult.
But McCollum can’t find a way to feel sorry for himself. The COVID-19 pandemic that has often made days feel like weeks and weeks feel like months has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands Americans and crippled the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands more, including some of those near and dear to McCollum. Given those realities, along with his past experiences dealing with injury, it seems almost vulgar, not to mention useless, to commiserate too much over sitting a month. That’s not to say there isn’t disappointment -- there absolutely is -- but it’s put in the proper context.
“I’m battle-tested man, I’m good. I’ve been through a lot in my life, I’m in a good stage of life mentally, I’m at peace. So whatever comes with injuries, it comes with it in sports. Whatever success comes with it, I’m ready for. Whatever failures come with it, I’m ready for.
“You could ask why things happen but who is going to give you the answer? I think that I’ll be in a better spot when I’m walking again -- I can walk my dog and I can play -- but in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy what comes with this life. I’ll enjoy the struggle of some of the things we take for granted, some of the things that we don’t realize are important to us that now you can’t necessarily do when things happen like this. I’ll enjoy the ride, it’s unfortunate, but I’ve been in worse situations.”