All athletes consider what their lives and careers will be like after their game days are over. In the NBA, some players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are better known for orchestrating the next act of their lives after they retire. James has wide ranging philanthropic and business activities (especially entertainment), while Durant's interests include the tech world.
A common option for athletes is broadcasting, and several former NBA stars have put their experience to use in hugely successful careers. However, for Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum, it goes far deeper than in front of a camera or behind a microphone.
McCollum is from Cleveland and has a degree in Journalism from Lehigh University. He takes the craft very seriously (his intellectual savagery and immersion in Lehigh are legendary) and has carved out a significant niche as one of the most interesting and interested stars in the league.
"I've always been curious," he said. “(At Lehigh) I took some speech writing classes and spoke publicly. I realized I wanted to share stories. I had to convince my mother of this major. She let me write something and said if it's good enough you can switch majors. I sent her a sample and the rest is history. "
It started writing for Players' Tribune, Sports Illustrated for Kids, and Forbes, interviewing celebrities like then-NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. From there, McCollum started broadcasting more, hosting a SiriusXM rookie diary show in his freshman year in Portland, and signing a deal with iHeart Radio for a hip-hop show on a local station.
His must-see podcast, Pull Up With CJ McCollum, brings top athletes and cultural icons together to discuss issues inside and outside of sport. His two-part series with Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love about mental health in the NBA broke the way athletes interact with one another and addressed a personal and health issue in a public forum.
Most recently, McCollum developed and launched a new show on the athlete's majority-owned platform PlayersTV (in which he invests), which further cemented him as one of the most important voices in the sport. ReMaking America delves deeper into social issues such as educational reform and, as McCollum puts it, "not just societal problems, but also concrete measures and ways to overcome them".
The guest of the series premiere was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate and California Senator Kamala Harris. McCollum was joined by NBA stars Tobias Harris from the Philadelphia 76ers and Donovan Mitchell from Utah Jazz. The trio covered topics such as voting, police brutality, and the importance of investing in underserved communities.
McCollum was filmed the day after the vice presidential debate between Harris and incumbent Mike Pence and was shown wearing masks in a Covid-safe environment. He wanted to treat the interview as anything but a more natural conversation.
"I didn't want her to feel like she was being grilled," recalled McCollum. "I wanted it to be about storytelling and personal experiences," I noted that the educational talk on the show was based on Mitchell's experience (his mother is a teacher) and that of Tobias Harris, whose brother at an HBCU like Kamala Harris went, is comparable.
"I thought it would be fun to talk about, but also near home," said McCollum.
It's easy to forget that McCollum, Mitchell, and Tobias Harris are athletes. The conversation is easy to feel in equal parts while still addressing some tough topics that many Americans face.