Issue 6: Cool Cats: CJ McCollum

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Issue 6: Cool Cats: CJ McCollum

Welcome to the first installment of our “Cool Cats” series, where we check out a player that’s just as interesting off the court as he is on it. Today’s Cool Cat: Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum.

NBA and NCAA fans alike are familiar with Christian James McCollum’s hardwood prowess. While at Lehigh University, he led the Mountain Hawks to a victory over the Duke Blue Devils in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, in one of the rare 15-2 upsets.

McCollum has continued to thrive in the NBA, as well. He won Most Improved Player during the 2015-16 season, led the league with an impressive 91.2% free-throw percentage in 2016-17, and has averaged at least 20 points for four straight seasons.

None of that really matters for the point of this email, but I had to get a little basketball talk in here. Let’s hop into McCollum’s off-the-court endeavors. 

A Communications Connoisseur

McCollum is the only Lehigh athlete to ever make the NBA. He graduated with a degree in journalism, and he’s continued that passion even while in the league.

McCollum has interviewed NBA commissioner Adam Silver and regularly writes articles for a number of different outlets like The Players Tribune. Covering everything from life in Portland to winning a playoff series, McCollum certainly has a way for words. He wants to share that joy with others, too.

Through his mentoring program CJ’s Press Pass, McCollum encourages local Portland students to learn about journalism, inviting them to games, giving them media credentials, and having them attend postgame press conferences.

The guard also hosts a podcast, Pull Up with CJ McCollum. He was actually in the middle of recording an episode with his teammate Carmelo Anthony when the news broke of the NBA suspending its season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

McCollum was even an early supporter of social distancing — he came out with a statement that he wouldn’t sign autographs for fans for fear of spreading the disease. And he encouraged people to thoroughly wash their hands, which is still good advice several months later.

His Time to Wine

McCollum was kind enough to share his quarantine routine with us, which included perfect-form side planks, unstoppable Jenga moves, and making gourmet meals for his dog FiFi.

During the NBA’s hiatus, McCollum also introduced McCollum Heritage 91, a 2018 Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir he made with Adelsheim Vineyard. The winery helped develop the Blazers’ 50th-anniversary commemorative wines. Now, they’re partnering with the team again to provide COVID-19 relief funds for the community.

“The fact that Adelsheim is LIVE [Low Input Viticulture and Enology] certified and believes in sustainability was a huge factor in my decision process,” McCollum told Wine Spectator. “They don’t use [excessive] chemicals, they prefer solar panels, and it gave me a chance to be as interactive as possible.”

The name and bottle have plenty of meaning, too. There are elements of McCollum’s birth year, the street he grew up on, and his fiancee’s favorite flower.

McCollum said he didn’t like wine at first – that palate was unrefined and he was drinking on a college budget. But now, several years into an NBA career, he’s ready to help others embark on a wine journey with a solid bottle of pinot.

I’m Trying, Jennifer

McCollum is also a great follow on Twitter. Earlier this year, he tweeted about five jobs he had prior to reaching the NBA, as part of a “5 Jobs/5 Tags” trend that people much cooler than me were involved in.

McCollum cleverly included “Intern at Lehigh Sports” as one of his jobs. The NCAA famously doesn’t pay their players, despite the fact they bring in millions of dollars for their universities. Tee hee.

A much more fun and enduring Twitter saga is the one between McCollum and a woman named Jennifer Williams.

McCollum had talked about “ring chasing” on his podcast, the act of a player leaving his old team to join a more powerful one in the hopes of winning a championship. McCollum said he’d never do that, and the media ran with it, making him sound like, in McCollum’s words, “a bitter ex.”

Enter Williams, who told McCollum he had no place to speak until he won a game in the playoffs. His response is glorious.

McCollum did eventually meet Jennifer before a game, and when the Blazers finally won a playoff game in 2019, he headed back to Twitter to call her a legend.

Now that’s you have some fun with the fans.

That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!