All athletes consider what their lives and professional careers look like after their playing days are over. In the NBA, some players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are more high-profile in how they are staging the next act of their lives upon retirement. James has wide-ranging philanthropic and business endeavors (especially entertainment), while Durant’s interests include the tech world.
One common option for athletes is broadcasting, and several former NBA stars have parlayed their experiences into highly successful careers. But for Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum, it goes far deeper than being in front of a camera or behind a microphone.
McCollum, a Cleveland native, graduated from Lehigh University with a journalism degree. He takes the craft very seriously (his intellectual ferocity and immersion at Lehigh are legendary) and has carved out a substantial niche as one of the league’s most interesting and interested stars.
“I’ve always been curious,” he said. “[At Lehigh] I took some speechwriting courses and was in public speaking, and I realized that I wanted to share stories. I had to convince my mom about this major. She made me write something and said that if it’s good enough, you can switch majors. I sent her a sample, and the rest is history.”
It started with writing for the likes of the Players’ Tribune, Sports Illustrated for Kids and Forbes, interviewing prominent figures like then-NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver. From there, McCollum broke more into broadcast, hosting a SiriusXM rookie diary show during his first year in Portland and signing a deal with iHeart Radio for a hip-hop show on a local station.
His podcast, Pull Up With CJ McCollum, is a must-listen, bringing in star athletes and cultural icons to discuss issues inside and outside of sports. His two-part series with Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love, discussing mental health in the NBA, broke the mold of how athletes interact together, tackling a personal and health issue in a public forum.
Most recently, McCollum developed and launched a new show on athlete majority-owned platform PlayersTV (in which he is an investor) that further solidified him as one of the most vital voices in sports. ReMaking America digs even deeper into social issues such as education reform and, as McCollum puts it, “not just talk about societal issues, but the tangible actions and ways to overcome them.”
The series premiere’s guest was Democratic vice presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala Harris. McCollum was joined by fellow NBA stars Tobias Harris of the Philadelphia 76ers and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz. The trio covered topics including voting, police brutality and the importance of investment in underserved communities.
Shot the day after the vice presidential debate between Harris and incumbent Mike Pence—and conducted in a Covid-safe environment with masks—McCollum wanted to treat the interview as anything but that, and rather a more natural conversation.
“I didn’t want her to feel like she was being grilled,” recalled McCollum. “I wanted it to be centered around storytelling and personal experiences,” noting how the education conversation in the show is close to Mitchell’s experience (his mother is a teacher) and that of Tobias Harris, whose brother went to an HBCU like Kamala Harris.
“I thought those would be fun to talk about, but also hit close to home,” said McCollum.
It’s easy to forget that McCollum, Mitchell and Tobias Harris are athletes. The conversation is equal parts easy to feel part of while still addressing some difficult topics that many Americans face.