McCollum on Simmons business rumors, shot of vaccines and blazers

Portland Trail Blazers Guard CJ McCollum has been interested in the commercial machinations of the NBA since the beginning of his caree...


Portland Trail Blazers Guard CJ McCollum has been interested in the commercial machinations of the NBA since the beginning of his career. He was a team representative and vice-president of the players’ union, the National Basketball Players Association, before being elected to succeed Chris paul as president this year.

Work pays nothing. He adds phone calls and video conferences to his already busy schedule with his day job. His wife is due to give birth overnight of their first child. He has a fledgling wine business.

Why would McCollum want to do this?

“I am ready for the next step, the next evolution of myself,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “And it’s about being more mature, having more responsibilities, but also finding ways to help more people. Find ways to provide leadership, advice and guidance.

Since he started, more challenges have faced him and the Trail Blazers. McCollum, who is in his ninth season in Portland, has been the subject of trade rumors. As the team struggled on the pitch in recent weeks, its then President and CEO, Neil Olshey, was fired for misconduct at work. And McCollum is now sidelined as he recovers from a partially collapsed lung.

On top of that, the union is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, with McCollum – who has said he does not allow unvaccinated people into his home – and the league encouraging vaccines. The players don’t have a vaccination warrant, but McCollum said: “We were at 98, we might even be around 99% vaccinated right now, which is a big deal.”

He sought advice from Paul, other veteran players, lawyers and executives who work for the union. He learns how to defend players while building relationships with teams and the league office. The next collective agreement will be negotiated during his tenure, and he would like to help players with financial literacy.

He recently spoke to the New York Times about being the president of the players’ union during a pandemic, how he handles business rumors, and his relationship with Olshey.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Have you had to explain to others why additional coronavirus testing is a good thing? [The league and union agreed to require additional testing, even for vaccinated players, after Thanksgiving, which has coincided with an uptick in positive tests.]

I think when we explain to people the importance of knowing – there’s a lot that goes under the radar in terms of being positive, but being asymptomatic. So I think the tests are done during the holidays when people are on a plane or traveling, families are coming in from out of town, you get together, you are more exposed. It makes sense and the only bad thing that can come of it is finding out that you are positive. But the good news is, you find out early, and you can save money and not expose some of your friends and family.

When training camps opened, great attention was paid to the small number of unvaccinated players. Did that annoy you?

Yeah, it did. I have the impression that we have been targeted. Obviously, people admire us. We play a sport for a living. It’s entertainment. People thought of us as the bar. In reality, we’re kind of the bar: 98% of our league volunteered to get the shot, while the public was 55% or 60% at that time. No one was talking about the fact that American companies were going through the same problem, no one was talking about the fact that there were healthcare workers going through the same problems. It was us in the spotlight, and I thought it was unfair because we were doing a great job educating our players.

There has been a lot of talk about vaccine reluctance in the black community as an issue for the NBA. How do you see it?

There was hesitation, but I think there is everyone’s hesitation. We wanted to know more, we wanted more data. The historical understanding of blacks and African Americans has been put to good use, especially in similar circumstances and situations. Historically, we have sometimes been used almost like guinea pigs for experimental medicine. There was caution, there was a pause, but for good reason.

I think that by continuing to educate ourselves and ask the right questions of the experts, we learned that there was a change.

As union president, you have to think about the well-being of other players, but some of their situations impact you as well. I think about Ben Simmons, who hasn’t played this year and how your name is mentioned in trade rumors with him. How do you see your dual role in this?

It’s an interesting situation, but it’s also part of the business, and it’s the life I’ve chosen. I think for me it’s simple: I have to take my personal personal interests out of it. I have to supervise and protect all players if they are called to the best of my ability. We need to make sure that everything is flawless and that everything is done the way it’s supposed to, within the guidelines of the [collective bargaining agreement], and as long as we do this, I walk away. My job is done.

The good thing about our union is that we have so many experts who not only work within the union but whom we can contact and mobilize. Ben did a great job of doing it. Continue to educate yourself and Rich [Paul, his agent]. They kept asking the right questions while mentally making sure Ben Simmons is in a place where he can start playing his best basketball again.

Is it personally difficult to hear your name in business rumors?

I have always focused on controlling the controllable elements. I can’t control any of the noises that come with this game. I can say that as a basketball player you will be involved in rumors at some point of whatever magnitude because you play a sport. The media sort of dictates the line of the story. Success and failure also play a role.

But in terms of mental and physical condition, I am recovering from an injury and I love being a husband, a potential father, a son, a teammate and a brother. I think this is where I focus and this is where my focus will stay.

What is it like as a player when there are upheavals in the front office as you’ve known, especially when it comes to a guy you’ve been close with, Neil Olshey ?

It is regrettable. We have a very stable organization. There’s been a lot of, I don’t know if volatility is the word, throughout the season. Sometimes it is difficult because you have to answer questions like the ones you ask me. The players kind of ask me what’s going on. As union president, I’m supposed to have the answers and sometimes I don’t. So I think that’s when it gets a little harder, but I think work is work.

Obviously, Neil being a friend of mine, being someone who has had a big impact on my life and that of my family, very unhappy what happened with this situation.

At the end of the day, we still have some work to do. This is often where people forget the human element of what players have to go through. We are obviously very well paid. We have a great life, we are happy and grateful for it. But there are a lot of things that come with this life and a lot of things that you just have to get over and that’s part of the job. And you kind of get used to it. This is not necessarily normal.

You work for the New York Times. You don’t need to hear about your value, you don’t need to hear that maybe you should be traded with another organization or business. You don’t have to watch it on TV. Your friends, family, peers don’t have to watch it on TV. But this is not the life you chose.

As an athlete, you get used to it. This is the importance of having a solid foundation, a solid supportive cast. And that’s also why we focus so heavily on mental health, because there’s a lot that comes with the sport that people can see – there’s a lot that you can’t see.

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Newsrust - US Top News: McCollum on Simmons business rumors, shot of vaccines and blazers
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