New ESPN multi-platform NBA analyst, New Orleans Pelicans star and current NBPA President, CJ McCollum participated in a media conference call today to talk about his new role.
McCollum’s analyst role includes contributions to NBA Countdown, NBA Today, SportsCenter, Get Up and First Take, plus game analysis for ESPN’s coverage of NBA Summer League. He will work closely with ESPN to develop a new podcast that will be available on all streaming platforms throughout the year.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
Q. My question would be obviously being an active player and a TV analyst, it’s a bit different than what you typically see. Even for retired players it’s difficult sometimes to figure out how critical you can be of your former colleagues. For current players, it must be even more difficult. We have already seen that in the case of Draymond (Green). Some of the stuff you say on TV, when he said the Celtics will be in the Finals, it angered the Heat. Is there any concern that you have going forward into this role that some of the things you might say might create conflict for you with players in the league?
CJ McCOLLUM: No, I’m not worried about it. There’s a balance in everything. With my journalism background, I went to school for journalism, majored in journalism, minored in mass communications and sociology, so I understand the ins and outs of it. I also understand that you can’t make everybody happy.
It’s just more about analyzing the game. I’m not going to be overly critical. I’m not going to say things I wouldn’t want people saying about me, but the game is the game, right? The percentage are the percentages, the stats are the stats. You win or you lose.
Some players can better in certain circumstances and situations; some players should play better. And I think you can be more frank in that matter.
But in terms of bashing guys, I’m the president of the PA first of all, and I don’t think that makes sense or would be productive for me or our league in general. But it’s more about analyzing what I see. Instead of saying someone played poorly, why is someone having such a hard time, what is the defense doing, things of that nature I think is what I can speak to, the experience on preparing for games, execution during the games, adjustments teams may be making throughout a game.
I think those are conversations you can have, and obviously there’s certain topics I can’t speak on, like player movement. I can’t speak on CBA, I can’t speak on trades, I can’t really speak on salaries. There are things I’m prohibited from speaking on, which is obvious, and then what’s not obvious is surely brought to my attention by the NBA.
So I think it’s more so about enjoying all that basketball has to offer, all journalism has to offer, immersing and spending some time to kind of hone into my skills while utilizing my degree. I think that was important.
The rest of the stuff is what it is. Can’t make everybody happy. But like Draymond said, he thought he was going to play the Celtics.
I think the Celtics are going to win it all. It’s my opinion. It doesn’t mean it’s fact. You can be mad at me. You can take that and run with it. You can use it as motivation. I don’t really care. That’s just what I think personally.
Q. You mentioned your journalism background, studied it in school. Given that, what do you think about this opportunity, and also, did you have any hesitancy being an active player taking it on?
CJ McCOLLUM: I think it’s an honor to be able to work for the Worldwide Leader of Sports alongside some of the greatest in the business. Literally on break from First Take right now, right? Like how cool is that?
I get to join a lot of the shows that I’ve watched as a kid, be a part of the process, the analytical side of evaluating a game, talking about conversations.
I’ll be covering Game 3 of the Finals in Boston, so it’s like, how cool is that? Obviously I’d like to play.
In terms of the pause, I think it was more so schedule, timing, conflicts with my lifestyle. I’m president of the PA. I’ve got a lot of businesses I’m a part of and charge of. I’m a father. I’m a husband. Summertime is more so spending time with my family, working on my game.
But generally speaking, I travel and I move around, so once we kind of sat down and talked about what it would look like once I figured out my summer schedule, travel, once my wife signed off on it, once I planned my workouts accordingly, it was an easy transition for me to make some time to do these things, which will be very beneficial for my development in this round.
Q. I wanted to ask you about your time in broadcasting these Finals games, these first two games with Magic Johnson on ESPN. What’s kind of that experience been like for you from a guy who’s been to the Finals multiple times, who’s won multiple championships? What’s it been like going back and forth with him as you guys watch and dissect the game?
CJ McCOLLUM: Yeah, that was really cool to have that telecast, to be able to kind of talk through a game as it’s happening live for the world to kind of see, get an understanding of how we as players — me, Legs (Tim Legler), obviously (Michael) Eaves is on there as well — how we see the game, what we’re seeing, adjustments we can be making, thoughts as it’s happening in real time.
I thought that was really cool and I’m thankful to be a part of it. The interview side of it was awesome because I got to spend some time with Magic earlier in the summer. We just kind of sat down and talked, we had dinner, was able to ask some questions about the business realm, how I can be become better in that field. We’re going to spend some time together in LA as he referenced on the telecast.
But more so his knowledge as a basketball player, right? Like how did he become who he is? What does it take to get the best out of your teammates? You were a rookie playing with Kareem; what was that like in terms of facilitating an offense, running an offense, shooting versus passing?
What to do with the fourth quarter? What things should I be looking for as the game progresses? Leadership qualities, what does that look like? I think that’s the cool part of being able to talk to someone like Magic, because he’s going to open up not just on the business side, but also on the basketball side.
As a player you’re always striving to get better. There’s always little things I’m working on, little nuggets I’m trying to take away from people, especially the greatest players to play the game. So we’ll have more conversations as the summer progresses. I’ll get up to LA. I got to call his assistant, figure out when he’s going to be free. Make sure you write this so I can figure out his schedule so we can coordinate a time for me to get up to LA.
Q. CJ, I don’t cover the NBA regularly; my colleagues at the Athletic do. I cover sport media primarily. You’ve always been a thoughtful voice. I think I have more of a philosophical question for you, and I think you’ll have an interesting take on this. It’s interesting to watch current and former professional athletes right now push back more than ever before on the business of sports commentary, which for the past two decades in many ways you can monetize all this by criticizing athletes, or to be blunt, like shitting on athletes. As someone who straddles between being a pro athlete as you are now and also obviously you’re now working for a major broadcast outlet, I wonder how you view the constant evaluation of professional athletes, how networks, including like ESPN, have monetized this, and do you see as athletes are getting more power just by using their own distribution, places to put this out there? Can it shift a little bit? I’ve been watching just as an observer, and a lot of these things, particularly with J.J. Redick and Kevin Durant and others, they’re pushing back more than ever before, and that’s just interesting to me as someone who covers media. How do you see it?
CJ McCOLLUM: That was like a four-part question. First part of the question in terms of balancing, as you referenced shitting on players versus just being more quite frank in terms of evaluation, I think as a player, I understand it’s a gift and a curse to play this sport.
It’s a gift because it’s our dream job, we get paid handsomely, we’re able to take care of our families, we’re able to do something a lot of us have done our entire lives. The sacrifices that come with it, the time; obviously you’ve got to be headstrong.
There’s a lot of things you have to go through that the normal world doesn’t in terms of not just scrutiny, but people can speak on your families. We’ve seen the Chris Paul situation. Fans during games. There’s a lot of things that are getting out of hand because of social media, so you have to balance that.
But I think as a player who has a background in journalism, I understand the importance of players having their own voice, but also understand the importance of being able to share someone’s message the right way, and I think sometimes messages are often misconstrued.
The headlines are clickbait, oftentimes not sharing the rest of the quote. Things of that nature I think can lead to trouble in paradise for us as athletes and for the networks as well.
I think when you find that balance between being good with media while also empowering players to have podcasts because they’re going to open up more, they’re going to want to do more storytelling.
As a person that has a podcast, I think players feel more comfortable talking to me because I’m going to send you a copy of it first. Like, hey, what do you think about this? I didn’t like what you said here. I’m taking this out. I don’t think this is beneficial for you; whereas some people may be just be trying to get a story.
I think that’s the cool side of players more so having a voice.
I don’t mind being critical of players at times because I think it’s necessary. I think there’s a way in which you can talk about it that’s more so you doing your job as opposed to attacking players. Like no one plays poorly on purpose. Tatum didn’t shoot 3 for 17 on purpose, right?
So it’s more so why did that happen and how did he still figure out a way to help his team win. I think that’s the side that journalists can take more oftentimes than, not because there’s one thing with the stats data as to what’s happening.
But then there is a player’s side in my perspective where I understand journalism, but I also play so I can speak to what I’m seeing in terms of the game, in terms of how it’s continuing to transpire, in terms of the adjustments Steve Kerr might make going into Game 3. GP came back.
So there are these little dynamics that I notice as a player. Like what’s it like when you go down 0-1. As a journalist, unless you’ve played, you can’t really speak to some of those aspects of it, so I think that’s a cool side for me.
I don’t know what the fourth part of your question was. I can’t remember.
Q. You got a couple games under your belt. I know you prepare like crazy when you play, but how do you prepare for calling games and being on broadcasts?
CJ McCOLLUM: Yeah, it’s a different type of — I don’t know if you’d call it pressure, so to speak. I’ve done some Finals in the past; I think 2016 I did it for ESPN, just with SportsCenter Hits. It’s the timing of it. Get used to wearing the mic. I don’t know if you can see it now. It’s behind me. I need to get a custom ear mic because this is falling out.
But also wardrobe, figuring out what you’re going to wear. Timing. I watch the game like I normally would, but now I have to take notes. I have to kind of figure out things I may want to talk about when I’m going on TV.
I had a production call last night call at 11:00, 11:30 postgame where we talked about things I may want to share, what am I noticing, biggest takeaways.
There is an overnight producer that kind of puts things together, sends graphics. We kind of go back and forth. It’s essentially just like preparing for a game only the physical part is nonexistent.
I’m just working out like in the mornings by — when I have to think about the game.
But I think that’s the cool part, is the preparation. I would normally be watching the game, so now I just have to watch differently. Normally when the Warriors go up 20 I would turn it off and watch P Valley or something, but I had to watch the rest of the game and kind of see did the Warriors keep Klay in, try to get him in rhythm, like little things like that that I’m watching to kind of get an understanding of what I want to talk about.
So the preparation is wild depending on how good you want to be. Obviously some people probably don’t prepare as much, but it’s like you want to be good at your job, you have to prepare, you got to study. It’s basketball. It’s easy.
It’s more so the points which I want to get across, how I want to get them across, while also understanding that I still play. So it’s like there’s a balance.
Q. Speaking to still playing, I know you probably want to get into this more after you’re done playing, but how would you want to get more into the media world? Would you want to be more of an analyst or do you like being on shows like you’re doing today?
CJ McCOLLUM: I think one of the cool things about this partnership and my working relationship now with ESPN is that I get a chance to kind of experiment, kind of figure out exactly what I like, get to do day shows, do some SportsCenter Hits, I’ll do pregame, I’ll do postgame.
I’ll be able to kind of go through the ringer in a sense of figuring out what I’m most comfortable with, what I need to work on, what I’ll look for to try and continue to pursue.
So I think that’s kind of where I’m at right now. I’m unsure. Done a little bit of everything in spurts, and this will be a good opportunity for me to continue to learn more and really kind of figure out what’s next.
But I’m still young in my work life on the court and off the court, so I’ve got some time to kind of figure things out.
Q. I wanted to ask this question more focused on what you’ve been doing on the court these last few years. Obviously this year you got traded from Portland to New Orleans. Throughout all your years in Portland, what were some of the main lessons you learned from guys like Damian Lillard, Terry Stotts, Jusef Nurkic? What are some of those lessons you learned in Portland taken to New Orleans and have used as one of the leaders Pelicans team?
CJ McCOLLUM: I think what I’ve taken from my time in Portland is that everybody is different. How you lead, how you follow, the type of advice you give. Whether it’s constructive criticism or not, it’s received differently from each person, so you’ve got kind of fit to personalities.
But I think the biggest thing is developing relationships. You can have relationships with each player and each relationship will be different. Some people you will go out to eat with; some people you’ll just kind of talk to as working friends, which is similar to what you guys probably go through in your day-to-day jobs.
I think the biggest thing is building trust, and then you’re able to have a higher sense of accountability. You’re able to hold people to a higher level of accountability. That all starts with relationships, trust.
And being able to open up I think is really important. Going to a new team I had to let people know how I was as a person, allow them to challenge me. I think all those things are important. Be coachable, but also lead by example.
I think that travels anywhere, any relationship, any working environment. If you work hard, do things the right way, and have that trust and that relationship, then everything else is easy, and I think that’s what I’ve done in every field, in every way of life.
Q. As an analyst, I just wanted to get your thoughts on what you’ve seen from RJ Barrett and where you think he might be able to go from here.
CJ McCOLLUM: RJ Barrett? I like RJ; he’s a strong wing. He’s gotten more confident. He kind of exploded in terms of efficiency and aggressiveness down the stretch of last season.
I remember I used to go to Canada every summer and work with the Canadian National Team. Jay Triano used to be the head coach. He was my coach in Oregon.
David Vanterpool, one our assistants was on staff, and I used to train in Canada, so I was able to see him, Jamal Murray, and a lot of those younger guys, Wiggins as well in Canada when they were a little bit younger.
So it’s no surprise to see his development, no surprise to see how well he’s playing. I think the sky’s the limit for him.
Q. A lot of what we’ve seen in recent years is players when they are going into the media they are going in through their own media platforms. So LeBron with Uninterrupted. Or even Peyton Manning. He works for ESPN, but only through his production company, Omaha Productions. Is that something that as you are looking down the line in your career, would you want to continue let’s say after your playing career is over working for a company directly like ESPN or working through your own production company and your own kind of — the media space that you have your own control over?
CJ McCOLLUM: I think for me, historically I’ve continued to align myself with the right strategic partners in which there was a mutually beneficial relationship. So there’s the learning part obviously. There’s the actual work that you do and there’s what you take away from it.
I’ve done the same thing in my wine business where I partnered with a vineyard – still do – an outside vineyard, and I create wine, and now I’ve purchased since, 318 acres to build out my own vineyard and begin planting and doing those type of things. I have my own podcast; bring my podcast to ESPN and then we’ll kind of go from there in terms of development.
But this is all just a learning process for me in which I’ll go through phases. I make short-term goals and long-term goals. Right now the short-term goals are in line with the long-term, is to learn more about the business, learn more about journalism in general, expose myself to something that I wouldn’t normally be doing, get more comfortable, figure out what I like, what I don’t like, and then develop a plan going forward for how I would like to execute 31, 32, 33 in terms of years.
But right now it’s far too early to say. The culture is shifting. Journalism is shifting. The way in which we communicate is shifting. Who knows what social media will exist between now and whenever I retire, so it’s hard to say what the future holds for me, but right now I like the present and I like where it’s headed.
Q. You’ve been the president of the Players’ Association for almost a year now. How has that done for you so far, and is there anything you bring from that role into your commentary on ESPN? Do you feel any need to represent players or the union in a particular way?
CJ McCOLLUM: I’ll answer the second part first. I’m always representing myself first, my family, my last name, and then the respective city and team I play for, the league as a whole, and then the players.
So I always have to be careful what I say because I’m a public figure now, and obviously my words travel a little faster than they always have with social media. Now as the president of the PA, anything I say can and will be used against me, so I have to be careful. So if that answers your question.
The first part of it, can you repeat that?
Q. How is your time as the president of the PA going so far? How do you like it? What do you see ahead for the PA?
CJ McCOLLUM: I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a lot of work, a lot of work, a lot of conversations, phone calls, going through the CBA, learning about the CBA, figuring out how the game is going to continue to progress going forward.
I think collectively as a whole it’s been fun. I’ve always obviously had a lot of help. I’ve been vice president for some years before I transitioned into the presidential role. I relied upon a lot of advisors, a lot of help learning. I think we’re in a really good place. I think the game is in a good place. Attendance is up, obviously. We figured out how to maneuver through COVID and are still maneuvering through that.
I think in terms of TV ratings, like a lot of people are watching the games. Obviously there’s some blowouts for a little bit, but in terms of the competitiveness of the game, Game 7s, all those things have been important, and I think the networks are enjoying it.
So I’d say as a whole I’m learning a lot about the responsibilities of a president, learning a lot about the game, not just how it’s played but the rule changes, things that could potentially happen.
It’s really been cool and I’ve been privy to a lot of information, so I’ve really enjoyed it.
Q. I’m wondering, you’re obviously very competitive on the court; how competitive are you off the court? How much do you compare yourself to the other players, especially active players that are doing similar things in media? And how do you measure success, because it’s so much harder when there’s not wins and losses at the end of the day?
CJ McCOLLUM: Yeah, I’ve always said it: Comparison is a thief of joy, so I try to compare myself. I analyze. I watch. I encourage players and power players.
I’m happy to see what Draymond is doing. He calls it the new media; I think that’s funny.
But I’m happy to see players continuing to evolve, which is important. You have to continue to make plans post-basketball and you have to continue to do things that make you happy.
I think players finding healthy habits are really important, so I would start by saying that. Secondly, in terms of evaluating success versus failure, I think there is no failing at this job. Like you learn from losses. There’s things that I could do better, but it’s more so am I prepared, right? Do I prepare? Am I watching games?
Of course I watch all the games. Do I analyze? Am I taking notes? Am I asking questions? Am I reviewing the film, so to speak, kind of seeing ways in which I can improve, and then go back to the drawing board.
But I don’t look at this as a success or a failure because I went to school for journalism. I did four years of this. I interned for Lehigh Sports. I covered games. I interviewed coaches. I covered the tennis champ, the Patriot League Championship. I’ve covered field hockey, lacrosse, volleyball. You name it, I’ve done it.
I’ve had the camera and been a part of production. I’ve had to chop-up videos. I’ve had to follow the ball around in rain at football. Like you name it, I’ve had to try to get interviews college players, which is probably harder than getting interviews from professional athletes because of the school-workload balance.
So I have a great appreciation of the entire process of journalism. Obviously I’m not soliciting people for interviews right now because I really don’t have the time, but I’ve enjoyed the process, and I think this is something that I can’t fail at because it’s just a matter of pursuing something and then trying.
Whatever happens is going to happen and my life will continue to go on and I’ll be happy regardless.
Q. You mentioned all that experience; do you think most players are capable of doing what you and Draymond are doing? Do you think we’re going to see more of that, or do you think it’s a specific type of person and player who is kind of capable of being successful in these realms?
CJ McCOLLUM: I think it’s a specific type of player, and it depends on what your goals and priorities are. This workload is different. I was watching the game last night breaking down film, chopping things up, figuring out what I want to talk about, and I got here today at 7:15 and I’ll leave at 3:00.
That’s a job, not to mention I’m working out in between. So I’m lifting, I’m shooting, working on skill. I’m watching my film, figuring out how the Pelicans can be better. I run three, four businesses on the side. I’m the president of the PA.
My workload is different and my capacity to handle workload is different. Some players just need to be disconnected, they need to relax. I don’t know if you have a podcast or not, but like trying to do a podcast while you’re doing a full-time job is hard because of the timing of like how you travel in the NBA.
Like we travel all — like every three days we’re flying somewhere. Not only do you got to carry your equipment and all that stuff, but it’s like finding guests. There’s a lot that goes into that, but you have to really care.
I’m not sure a lot of people really care that play about this realm of sports and journalism.
Q. If you were in the Finals would you have continued doing a podcast the way Draymond has?
CJ McCOLLUM: I think it’s to each its own. I can’t say what I would or wouldn’t do because I’m not there, but historically once we start traveling and it becomes too hectic, I stop recording.
So even this past season I did a podcast probably before Game 1 and I didn’t do one until — maybe went home for a break and I might have recorded one, and then I didn’t record until the series was over, because it’s like we’re playing every other day, I’m traveling, I’m not soliciting guests.
And then just the level of focus and detail. In my downtime I was just trying to relax. It also depends on what you agreed to contractually. I had flexibility where I was just like, these are the days I’m recording; these are the days I’m unavailable.