National Basketball Players Association VP CJ McCollum: Holding Management Accountable
In every workplace there are leaders who can hold management accountable and speak to injustices happening inside – and outside – of their workplace. Even in industries dominated by people of color, like the NBA, there can still be issues of representation in management.
CJ McCollum plays for the Portland Trail Blazers and serves as the vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, which is the NBA’s player union. He talks to host Porter Braswell about how management can be supportive of race-related issues happening inside and outside of the workplace, as well as how he holds his team’s and the NBA’s leadership accountable on and off the court.
HBR Presents is a network of podcasts curated by HBR editors, bringing you the best business ideas from the leading minds in management. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Harvard Business Review or its affiliates.
CJ MCCOLLUM: Basically, you have a job to your employer to be respectful, to kind of follow certain policies and guidelines. But when it comes to me speaking out on things, I believe in, I speak on it. I have to speak to the core of things that are important to me, things that mean something to me. And I have to, as the saying goes, there’s a lot of people who are voiceless. I have to speak on behalf of those people who may not be heard.
PORTER BRASWELL: From HBR Presents, this is Race at Work. A show that explores how race impacts our careers and lives.
I’m Porter Braswell. I left a Wall Street career to start a company called Jopwell because I wanted to help corporate America build a more diverse workforce.
Each week, we talk to a different leader about their experience with race… And how it impacts our daily lives.
In every workplace there are leaders, people who can hold management accountable and speak to injustices happening in their workplace. Even in industries where people are predominantly people of color, there can still be issues of representation in management. That’s been the case with the National Basketball Association.
In this episode, we talk to CJ McCollum, shooting guard for the Portland Trailblazers and Vice President of the National Basketball Players Association, about being a leader in his field, and really, every industry he’s been in.
We started our conversation by talking about his upbringing, and how that primed him to be a leader.
Let’s start at the beginning. Talk to me about your upbringing. What was the culture like in your household that led to two professional athletes, you and your brother? That’s incredible.
CJ MCCOLLUM: Yeah, no, I grew up in Canton, Ohio. Great question by the way. Uh, I was raised by my mother and my parents got divorced when I was three years old, but they were still very cordial. My father lived 10 minutes away. Canton’s a very small city, only about 75 or 76,000 people, uh, full of blue collar, hard workers. And I tell people all the time, you know, I grew up in a city where whatever you do for a living, you’re going to be really good at it because there’s nothing else to do. It’s very boring, depending on where you live at, there’s a high crime rate and stuff like that.
They put the football in your crib. They put a basketball in your crib and things of that nature. But I gravitated towards basketball, and my brother ended up choosing basketball. My mom raised us to stay as busy as possible, but to focus on academics, understanding that as the saying goes, you can’t play forever.
The ball stops bouncing. And basically told us to use sports, to get what we wanted from an academic standpoint. That was what kind of stuck with us. As we grew up, my brother was obviously three and a half years older than me. He was the model kid model, student honor roll. He did everything right and never got in trouble.
I remember my mom sitting us down and telling us the basics of, you know, treat people the way you want to be treated. Understand that if you want anything in his life, you have to work for it. You have to go get it. And if you say you want to become a professional athlete, you have to work twice as hard as everybody else, especially where we come from.
You really got to work twice as hard to get seen in this small place. So, we had rules that you had to do your homework first before you could go outside and shoot. So we would try and get our homework done as fast as possible so we could go hoop. And on the weekends, you know, she would drop us off at the community center.
And we would start working out at like 8:00 AM, 9:00 AM. And that’s when I kind of fell in love with basketball and training. And I think her pep talk, you know, really helped me because she told my brother and I, and my dad, they sat us down and said, we can’t afford your college. Either you’re going to need a 4.0 and get an academic scholarship, or are you going to need to have a 3.5 and be really good at a sport so that they can pay for it.
PORTER BRASWELL: Talk to me about the role of faith and how that’s played a role in your life. I know it’s something that is important to you. You post about it publicly. So talk to me about how – how that came into play within your household?
CJ MCCOLLUM: Yeah. Uh, we, we grew up going to church. I was raised in a Baptist family. My grandfather is from the south, Alabama.
My grandma was from Tennessee. So like most of my family grew up in the south, to where you didn’t have a choice. You had to go to church, you had to go to Bible study, it was forced. And then you gradually kind of accepted it. You know, as you got older, you realize like, I do need this, or I do want this.
And I gravitated closer to the Lord early on and started memorizing scriptures started kind of going through that stuff, sang in the choir. Voice isn’t the same now. You know, that’s just how we were raised growing up in the inner city, growing up to where a lot of my friends were capable of making it out, but didn’t.
And then some of them ended up making it out outside of sport – that I needed something that I could believe in and rely on that may not necessarily always see, but something that I felt was with me all the time. And I think that when you try to do things the right way, and you have something that you believe in, regardless of whatever religion that is, it’s easier to have faith and have strength when things aren’t going well.
PORTER BRASWELL: Well, I think there were something going on in that household. To have a very strong mother and a very strong father and to have two brothers that turned out to be incredible people first and foremost, and professional athletes. There’s some ingredients that are going on that I think a lot of people can learn from, especially listening to this podcast.
Let’s transition over to the NBA. So high level, what is it like playing in the NBA?
CJ MCCOLLUM: It’s a dream come true, man. Sometimes you know, I sit outside and I just think like, wow, I’m really in the NBA. When I’m walking into the arena or I’m pulling up and I know all the staff, this is my eighth season. So I know that the team attendance, I know the people that, you know, helped my grandmother – the ushers into the arena.
I know the concession stand ladies, you know, you know, the janitors. I’m exchanging wine with, you know, our security at the practice facility. You just have all these relationships and then you might see a kid wearing your Jersey. And you’re like, wow, that kid’s really wearing my Jersey. This is crazy. It’s honestly a dream come true.
It’s more than what I could have imagined. It’s better than I thought it would be. You always have this idea of what life is like when you make X amount of dollars, what life is like when you graduate from high school and you graduated from college, when we first get your license. For me, it was always like, I’m going to make it to the league.
I’m going to be a star. I want to play in the NBA. I want to take care of my family. And even when I didn’t believe it, I vocalized it. And when it happened, I was like, wow, like, this is really cool. I get the hoop every day. It’s just, it’s literally like a fairytale. And I, I worked extremely hard for it, so I’m grateful and thankful for it.
But. Sometimes you think like, wow, like this just really happened to me out of all the people this could happen to, you know, like, like, God, thanks for, thanks for choosing me.
PORTER BRASWELL: So it still hits you that feeling that like newness feeling of it all, it still hits you.
CJ MCCOLLUM: Yeah, the newness – I mean, there’s the dog days, especially with COVID and everything that’s going on. Playing an empty arena is it kind of takes me back to like childhood, like no fans, but I think just the perspective of I go home. Right. I go back to where I come from. I go, I see my friends. We just played in Cleveland. I have my grandma come up to the game. I get her a room at the Ritz. Like, those are the things that like, you really live for. Like, I live for like the smile like that I see on her face. I mean, just riding in the car, like just to see how happy she is.
I’m thankful for this life, because it allows me to impact so many people. It allows me to inspire so many people. And I think kids that come from situations like me can think like, look. I can be 6’3″, you know, I can go to a small school, I can get good grades. I can be a normal, like sized person, and either play at this level or be like an intellectual and still make it.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. What was it like to go up against some of the players that we grew up admiring and modeling games after? What is that feeling like? And I’m assuming you still go up against some of them now, does that still kind of hit you, that these are people that you watch grow up or is it kinda, meh, he’s just another player?
CJ MCCOLLUM: Well, now it’s different because I’m like eight years in, I’m like three contracts in. And like that has kinda like shifted to where we were planning as the rockets. And one of the guys came up to me on the rocket team and he was like, I really admire your game. Then I was thinking like, damn, like, am I getting old?
Like, he’s coming up to me, how I would come up to them. And I’m like, I’m almost 30. I’m married. Like, this is like, life is shifting fast. I played for king James growing up. So I played for LeBron’s AAU team. So I met LeBron at 12. So like, that was different for me. Cause it was like, it’s LeBron. But like I play for his team.
He gave us shoes. He was like, He was so lifelike, you felt like you could, like, you could literally reach out and touch him because he always came back. He was always giving back. He was always in our hometown. So, although he’s like billionaire LeBron now, like mega mega star. I knew him when I was 12. So like, it didn’t hit me the same as like Kobe or Mike.
Cause I just didn’t know them. And now like Melo’s on my team. I grew up watching Melo. My brother used to wear his Melo Jersey. I used to wear LeBron Jersey. So like I had to tell him like my bro was team Melo, like from the beginning and he, and we laugh about it. And when my brother comes back from Russia and I’m sure we’ll go drink wine or something.
We can tell stories, but. Looking back on those stories it hits me. And like my first time meeting Mike, like that was like, I used to stand in line for your shoes type of like energy.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. That’s cool. It’s some of those people where it’s like, you see them in person and you’re like, you’re not real. And like, if we look, be flash forward 50 years from now, it’s like this godlike thing and to have a chance to be around that and has gotta be incredible.
So you just mentioned having a glass of wine and speaking of wine, I know you have your own wine label, McCollum Heritage 91. Can you talk to me a little bit more about that and also about giving back to communities of color with the One Barrel Challenge?
CJ MCCOLLUM: To make a long story short. I was introduced to wine by my now wife back in college. I wasn’t a big fan of wine at the time. Didn’t really like it. Uh, pallet hadn’t developed yet. I didn’t really have the finances to, to buy certain wines. And I had no idea what I liked started with Merlot and kind of evolved from there.
I get drafted to the Portland Trailblazers. I move out to Oregon. I get exposed to Willamette Valley, Chehalem mountains, all that stuff. I tasted a proper Pinot. I’ll just say proper. I tasted Pinot that I liked, the pinot that was appealing to my, to my palette. And I said, wow, if all pinot tastes like this or close to this, I needed to become more involved in it.
That kind of expanded from there. That was 2013. My love for it kind of grew. I was exposed to, you know, going to some vineyards, doing some tastings, um, shout out to my guy, Evan Turner. He took me to one of my first tastings. You fast forward. My love kind of grows. I ended up getting a 600, 700 bottle cellar.
I ended up becoming a member at a lot of different vineyards and started getting exposed to different wineries and exposed to the process of making grapes. And then an opportunity that gets presented to me to learn more about the business side of wine in Oregon. And we collaboratively, you know, figure out a way for me to not only proactively learn about the business of wine, but also get educated on the process of making wine and all, all that goes into it.
And we ended up coming out with McCollum heritage 91 in partnership with Adelsheim to where I now have um, I put out a ’18 Pinot – sold out. I put out a 2020 rosé, it also sold out. And we just most recently released, um, a Chardonnay on behalf of the one barrel challenge in collaboration with, uh, seven other wineries.
And the biggest thing in all of this is my love for wine is what it is. I’ve continued to, to grow in that realm and want to introduce people to it. People that come from different walks of life, like me, who didn’t grow up around wine. We grew up around Hennessy and E&J and whatever else your parents drank.
And now I’m making that more comfortable for us. You know, comfortable for minorities, comfortable for people that come from walks of life like us. And I think that’s a really cool part, but the one barrel challenge specifically is really, really about making wine inclusive. That’s the biggest thing they’re trying to do is make it more inclusive to the, to the minorities and underserved communities.
And this year we partnered actually with the Maurice Lucas foundation, which is set up to continue to help the underserved communities. And their mission is to continue to figure out ways to, to empower the underserved communities, to empower, you know, certain kids focused around education.
PORTER BRASWELL: That’s really incredible that you’ve been able to break into the wine industry, which really has a lack of diversity on the producer side. And you’ve been able to give back to communities.
Let’s move into the role of the national basketball players association. I think that there’s a lot of parallels. Between that organization and what corporate America can be learning about most importantly, creating spaces to allow voices to be heard. So talk to us a little bit about the national basketball players association. What is it? And what’s the, what’s the mandate of the organization?
CJ MCCOLLUM: Yeah. So first and foremost, the national basketball players association is a union, uh, for our current players. Uh, basically we kind of hold everything down. As a member of the executive committee I’m acting as a liaison, basically on behalf of players on behalf of the NBA, on behalf of our union to basically vocalize all the things that are happening.
So if there’s any complaints, for instance, this season with COVID. I had to ask players, like, what are you comfortable with? And we kind of take a, take a poll, take a vote based on your team. And then we kind of get together collectively and discuss it. Like, what are the issues that your team foresees with us having this season?
Do they want to play? If they do play, what would they like to see happen? What type of guidelines? And then we’d go back to the NBA and they kind of talk about why we should play, why we shouldn’t play, what the guidelines look like, how much money is on the line, how much testing we’re going to have to do.
We basically kind of act as that liaison, but then outside of that, we also obviously do collective bargaining. We basically bring up any issues that players may have with agents. Any issues players may have in general, maybe grievances, we have a group of attorneys that can kind of handle and tackle some of those things.
Basically their job is to be an advocate on behalf of the better interest of the players in all facets of life. And I think based on what they’ve kind of gone through and how the game has evolved, not only financially, but from popularity standpoint, it’s very, very important that we have these unions because there’s always new issues that are going to arise and the issues that are going to come up. I can’t just think about like myself financially, like I’m stable, I’m secure, but what about the rest of the guys?
What about the rookies who just got drafted and they’re not going to get checks and they’re like the leaders of their household now? What about the coaching staff? What about the arena workers? You know, all of those people who are affected by it. So those are the kinds of decisions that we make on a day-to-day basis.
And I’m, I’m thankful to be a part of the union, thankful for the union, and also thankful for the players that have come before us.
PORTER BRASWELL: Hmm. Why was it important to you? Why is it important to you to have a leadership role within that? Being one of the vice presidents?
CJ MCCOLLUM: I just felt like it was time. And based on my experience in the league, based on what I had seen, my knowledge, how I care about players, how I like to see this game grow, I felt like it was the best decision for me.
And it’s also in the player’s hands. Like, I can’t just say I’m vice president now, or I’m this, or I’m on the committee. You have to be voted in. And you kind of become more informed on what’s going on and ways you can impact change and elicit change, not only in our sport, that’s the other thing we’re also trying to elicit change, you know, in the world and spreading information, spreading knowledge on things that are going on and understanding the importance of local voting, understanding the importance of some of the things we’re facing as a society, as Blacks, you know, in America, we’re always trying to spread information, being proactively involved in a lot of things that are going on.
And I felt like. You know, I was 25 or 26. I was getting to that point to where I was starting to understand the importance of everything that goes into sport and outside of sport. And I wanted to be involved in any way I could.
PORTER BRASWELL: What was the role of the NBPA when it came to last year’s bubble, but inside the bubble around the social justice issues. How did Michelle Roberts, the Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association respond?
CJ MCCOLLUM: They were great. Michelle was actually in the bubble. Michelle has done a tremendous job of, of helping transform our union, our league. You know, not only growing, you know, from a financial standpoint, but player empowerment and having players more actively involved. She’s been terrific. And the biggest thing was education.
We talked about it. Players need to understand what they’re speaking on before they speak. We’re all passionate about certain areas, certain sectors, but we also know more in certain areas than others. So they were great about having seminars. We would have zoom calls. We spoke to Brianna Taylor’s family.
We were speaking to attorneys. They bring in senators on their phone. We’re getting people. You know, from the white house on the phone, we’re in zooms with very influential people. And I think that really helped us kind of see the bigger picture and also be able to go do an interview, you know, on ESPN or ABC, to where you’re confident, you’re comfortable because I know what happened.
I talked to the DA, or I talked to this person and they gave me the facts and I have a one sheet or a one page on exactly what happened and exactly what we can do as voting citizens to kind of change certain things.
PORTER BRASWELL: So, wow, you spoke to Breonna Taylor’s mom. Can you tell us about that conversation? What were some of the things you talked about?
CJ MCCOLLUM: While we were in the bubble, we had an opportunity to speak to Briana Taylor’s mother and some of her family. And it was a very emotional call. Just being able to talk to a woman who just lost her daughter and to really get the exact story of what happened. And to try to figure out ways that we could support her.
I think that was the biggest thing that we wanted to kind of take away from that is how can we help you? How can we help your family? And just let them know that we’re, we’re extremely sorry for your loss and that we’re gonna continue to keep her name alive and uplift her, uplift her name, and a lot of other names that have been taken away at the hands of law enforcement and others.
And I think I’ll never forget the conversation personally, because of how vivid everything was. She was still in the house. You know what I mean? She’s sitting on the couch, she’s by her other daughter. She tells a story about how there’s so many bullets going through the windows. Her sister’s room was upstairs, but her sister happened to be out of town.
So if her sister was home, you know, she would have lost two daughters, you know? So just like those little things that you’re not necessarily aware of. And then just getting a, getting a better understanding of what no-knock warrant means, you know? Cause you, when you hear stuff like that, you don’t really know.
So gaining a better understanding of exactly what happened. I put myself in those shoes, like what would I do? You know, in my household trying to protect my wife, you know, whatever the case may be. Somebody kicks my door down, or bangs my door down, and I don’t know who it is. So. Being able to get those little anecdotes was something I’ll never forget, but just seeing her face and then seeing how happy she was to be able to talk to us and see that, like, we genuinely care, like we weren’t doing this for media.
We weren’t doing this for, you know, for, for nothing like that. We just generally want to talk to her in between games while we’re sitting in a bubble to gain a better understanding of what she’s going through. And I think that’s something that a lot of us will never forget.
PORTER BRASWELL: Thank you so much for sharing that with us. That’s so powerful. Conversations like that really have the power to change perspectives. So, again, thank you for sharing and for doing something like that.
It’s amazing to hear that you were able to use that experience and those emotions to inform your decisions in the union. Talk to us about the relationship between the NBPA and the NBA as the parent, or the league, as the institution.
Is it a good relationship? Is it a difficult relationship?
CJ MCCOLLUM: It’s a very good relationship now. And I think it’s all started with communication from a relationship standpoint. And I tell people all the time communication is the key. And for instance, when there are certain things going on, we have to let them know and they have to let us know.
They don’t know what it feels like to be us. Right. Specifically 80% of the league being African-American coming from the inner city, you know, being the heads of their household. We still have friends that live in the hood. I still got family that’s still getting pulled over, still going through a lot of stuff that I don’t have to go through anymore.
Certain people that work within the NBA were never exposed to that. So they don’t understand that side of it. So us being able to kind of sit down and have those conversations, we sit down with our governors, the ownership groups, with the NBA, and kind of explain to them why we feel the way we feel and how they can help us.
And I think once we had that dialogue and that communication, it makes things better. Figuring out ways to empower people and implore people to vote. You know, being able to sit down with, you know, our teams and I can speak to Jody and say, Hey, you know, what can we do to open up our arenas to make voting easier?
You know, Erik Spoelstra is sitting down with the ownership groups in Miami, being able to say like, Hey, how do we make it more inclusive for voting here in Miami? Or what can we do? Can we open up a practice facility? Can we open up the NFL teams? Do they want to be involved? Like how do we do this?
And I think having those conversations made everything so much better. And then from their point of view, being able to understand like, hey, why should we go to the bubble? Financially, what does that look like? Who is affected by this if we don’t? How many people are you going to be able to keep on your payroll if we do go play? How many people are you going to have to lay off no matter what? Being able to understand the business side of all these decisions is also important because at the end of the day, they do have a business to run.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. Well, I think to me, that’s the learning, that’s the learning because as I look at corporate America and I saw what was going on over the summer and the brands that got it, right -meaning that they came out with authentic statements and perspectives around what was happening in this country – they got it right, because they had an internal group of people that allow them to understand different perspectives. And most importantly, the leadership listened to those individuals so that the company can come out and do things that actually move the needle forward.
And from an outsider’s perspective, I thought that the NBA handled what we were all living through as a country incredibly well. I thought the players were organized. I thought that the messaging that was going out publicly was impactful. It was powerful. It was inspirational. And I love that the league allowed the players to be at the forefront of that. And I have to imagine based on what you’re describing, that your leadership, along with those within the NBPA played a large role in ensuring that the perspectives were going to be heard. And I think that if an organization, especially with the larger entities, if they can allow their employee resource groups to have that same type of influence and allow their perspectives to be heard, they are going to do so much better when it comes to dealing with the situations that that we find ourselves in.
As I think the NBA, again, from outsider’s perspective, did an incredible job, and is doing an incredible job, but I think it’s because of the asset that is the NBPA and allowing the perspectives of you all to be heard and felt and actually acted on.
CJ MCCOLLUM: Yeah, you’re, you’re a hundred percent right. And I think that’s the biggest thing that we’ve seen in the last year and a half is that there’s always been injustices. There’s always going to be unfairness in the workplace. I’m sure you’ve gone through it in corporate America. It’s always going to happen. But it’s about how people respond to it, right?
It’s one thing for your friends to say, Hey, I’m with you, Porter. I support you. That’s not right what they’re doing, but how are they actively trying to help this situation? Are they having conversations, uncomfortable conversations? Are they stopping things that shouldn’t be done in the workplace? Are they promoting and encouraging the hiring of minorities?
Are they promoting and encouraging inclusivity? Like those are little things that matter. And I think the NBA was starting to understand that, Hey, look, we don’t just want you to talk about it. We don’t want you to just throw money at things. We want you to be able to put people in a position where they’re educated on certain topics.
Certain companies, certain organizations, they need to have certain departments that are really speaking on some of these things that are going on. You look at what’s happening now to the Asian community. We need to have certain conversations, not just throw money at things. And I think the NBA was on board with that.
We started figuring out ways to be more collaborative on things. PSA’s commercials promoting, you know, small businesses, promoting Black businesses, promoting minority businesses, being able to figure out ways to physically do things as opposed to just saying stuff.
PORTER BRASWELL: Why is there still a lack of representation at the coaching level of folks of color and especially within the front office?
Why is there still that gap?
CJ MCCOLLUM: That’s a great question. And that’s something that we kind of bring up all the time and it’s a shame that I play in a league that’s 80% of the players are Black, and then you got probably 15, 10 to 15% European, and then, you know, the rest being white or other.
And you have one, you know, basically the only owner in the NBA is Michael Jordan. You know the greatest player of all the time, and there’s a lot more people out there that are wealthy enough to purchase teams. So that’s the first issue. The second issue is you look at the front office, the people that are in charge of decision-making aren’t of color.
It’s going to be repeated over and over again because of the people that are in position. If you got a Black guy, he’s more likely to probably hire a Black guy. If you have a white guy, he’s probably more likely to hire a white male and it’s not just a male dominated group. It’s a white male dominated group to where a lot of females are underrepresented in our business, obviously.
And a lot of Black coaches are grossly underrepresented and it goes back to the old adage of we’re good enough to play, but we’re not good enough to teach people how to play. Which doesn’t make sense, if you’re good enough to play, you definitely should – certain people have to be qualified to teach people how to play.
And it’s a shame that they usually get stuck with the, you know, behind the bench roles, player personnel, uh, they’re consulting they’re on the court, they’re behind the scenes, but they’re never able to sit at the front of the bench. And if they do get to the front of the bench, they’re very often they’re not promoted as head coaches and it’s a shame, but I think it starts in the front office.
There’s not a lot of people of color in the front offices, which leads to a lack of diversity in the hiring process. It’s unfortunate. It’s something that needs to be changed. And I’m not saying that unqualified people should get jobs. I’m saying that there’s a lot of qualified people who don’t get a chance or it’s just an interview to check the box.
We interviewed him, check the box. We already know who we want.
PORTER BRASWELL: Is there a, is there an openness or a receptiveness to doing things differently when it comes to a hiring perspective? Or are you seeing that it’s still, you know, people are talking about it, but nobody’s willing to do anything differently?
CJ MCCOLLUM: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a combination. It depends on what organization you look at. You look at the Phoenix suns. James Jones is the GM right. African-American male who played in the NBA, had a very good career. Won championships is smart. Super sharp. Was the treasurer for the NBPA knows numbers, can basically balance the salary cap on his own.
He gets hired as the GM, who was the coach for the Phoenix suns? Monty Williams. African-American male, going to win coach of the year. It’s about who’s in the position to hire, that’s the key. People are more likely to hire people that look like them that come from places like them they’re more likely to gravitate towards them.
But when you get a league of 28 teams where the GM is white, a white male in his fifties or sixties, who is he going to hire? The key is to figure out how to get more people of color in front of office positions, how to get more people of color in ownership roles, you know, D Wade gets a minor ownership stake with the Utah Jazz, right?
When you have more inclusivity, when you have more diversity and you get more diverse hirings, which I’m sure you can attest to in the workplace, you have more diverse minds, you get better ideas. You have the same mind you get the same ideas.
PORTER BRASWELL: Well, I think the argument for increasing representation is a pretty straightforward argument, especially, you know, we talk a lot about the league being it’s a business.
Well, as the consumer demographics are shifting and changing, you better have a workforce that understands the demands of that shifting demographic. It’s good for business. If you’re trying to think of creativity and you have different people from different perspectives and different contexts sitting at a table, trying to come up with the best idea, you better, you better ensure that people can come to that table with different perspectives to ensure that the best ideas ultimately win out.
So, you know, I think the business case for driving a more diverse workforce is pretty straightforward and, in no other situation can I think of given that the majority of the players are folks of color, does it make most sense to also have the front office and everything else reflect what that league looks like.
Let’s talk about being a Black man in this country while also being a professional athlete and representing a team. So when you’re outspoken and you’re talking about issues that speak to you as a person of color in this country, but it may not gel or jive with what the team or your employer is thinking, how do you balance the two?
CJ MCCOLLUM: That’s a great question, but it comes down to one thing. No matter what happens to me in my career, I’ll always be a Black man. Right. You know, whether I’m an NBA or not, when I get pulled over, I’m a Black man. I might be a Black man in a nice car with a good job, but I’m still a Black man. When I walk outside of these doors in Utah, I am for sure Black man here in the city.
So, you know, that’s, that’s what I am to the core. So that’s, you know, kinda how I feel. And that’s what I display. Obviously you have a job, you know, to your employer to be respectful, to kind of follow certain policies and guidelines, but when it comes to me speaking out on things, I believe in, if it’s from the heart, if it’s authentic, I speak on it. And I, I’m not disrespectful to anybody in any way, but there’s certain things that I’m passionate about and I’m a Black man first. You know, this job is what it is.
I love my job to death, but I can’t, I can’t hoop forever. I’m gonna be a Black man forever until the day that I die. And when I die, I’ll be known as a Black man who played in the NBA. So I have to speak to the core on things that are important to me, things that mean something to me. And I have to, as the saying goes, there’s a lot of people who are voiceless.
I have to speak on behalf of those people who may not be heard. You know, how many people are in certain situations or confrontations in which there is no camera? There is no video evidence? It’s there were versus the other person’s word and there’s no proof and then you get proof and justice still doesn’t come?
So I think in certain instances, I feel like I have a responsibility and an obligation to speak up. You know, if your, if your employer respects you as a Black man or you as a minority woman or whatever the case may be, it is what it is. And as long as you’re not speaking out against the company, I think that there’s a, there’s a lot of people who say these tweets are not on behalf of XYZ. These are tweets of my own.
Like, if you need to specify it, then so be it. But I think a lot of our employers now, know right from wrong. Certain things are right. Certain things are wrong and there is no, there’s no gray area on some of these things. You’re either on this side or you’re on that side.
And I think I like to know who’s who, and who’s where, so I let people know, this is where I stand on this issue now, where do you stand? And then from there I can kind of judge, you know, how we, how we continue this, this partnership, this relationship. And the same thing happened with our teams. You know, we’re having all these issues with.
You know, people being against Black Lives Matter, right? Our team as an organization, they have to decide like, do we still want to take some of these partners money? Do we still want to be a part of them? I think a lot of companies and corporations are going through that now. And the same thing goes for their employees.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. Do you think it’s the role of the team to create the space, to allow the players to have the conversation about race, or where do you think that responsibility lies?
CJ MCCOLLUM: I think depending on the severity of the situation – and our situation is different because as players, we can have certain conversations with players, but then – and obviously you’ve got HR, you’ve got all these different departments. You’ve got the business side of basketball, you’ve got the basketball side of basketball. And I think some of their conversations, they need to be had offline. They need to have those together. And then you kind of brainstorm, you know, collectively to see what the players are thinking.
From the business side, I definitely think we’re at the point in time where you have to have these discussions. You have to. The tension is there. You can feel it, you know, you’re waiting on certain verdicts. And what the NBA does well is that they plan ahead. You know, we had teams planning in Minnesota where, while there’s protests going on they’re trying to figure out, what happens if he’s not convicted?
What do we do? This is two weeks in advance, three weeks in advance. What do we do as an organization? What do we do as the NBA? What do we do as a players association? What are we willing to give up? How are we going to help impact this? How do we spread awareness on certain issues? Like the NBA has been great at being proactive.
All businesses aren’t necessarily the same, but I think if you want to be successful, you have to have uncomfortable conversations with your employees. You need to understand how each employee thinks and view certain situations. And especially now in this day and age, depending on the business, I think, I think it should be mandated that you have these conversations and discussions. Because there’s issues in all workplaces, especially now.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. So one question that we like to ask all of our guests this season is how do you advise corporations to engage in the topic of race?
CJ MCCOLLUM: I’m a very blunt person. So I think.,You know, on the topic of race, you should be blunt about it. You should be quite frank about it, and you should kind of discuss openly some of the issues that we have.
And I think those issues should be discussed by all parties, not just minority parties. And I think that’s the way to really elicit change. And I say it all the time, the oppressed can’t always be the ones complaining. We can’t.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I appreciate you CJ, for everything that you have done and all the things that you are doing. You’ve taken a leadership role on the things that need to be discussed publicly.
And again, from an outsider’s perspective, I think the things that are going on in the league are positive, but I know that they seem positive because of the leadership, especially within the NBPA and folks such as yourselves, and again, sharing that perspective to ensure that progress is happening. And so I appreciate you taking the time to join us on this podcast and really excited to root for you all for the rest of the season, moving forward.
CJ MCCOLLUM: Yeah. I appreciate you for having me on, man. I wish you nothing but the best as you continue to kind of maneuver through this world as well. And during these, these crazy times.
PORTER BRASWELL: I appreciate it.
That’s CJ McCollum. Shooting Guard for the Portland Trail Blazers.
This episode was produced by Liz Sanchez. Special thanks to Anne Saini and Nick Hendra.
Next week, we’ll talk to Grammy-Award winning trumpeter, Keyon Harrold. You might remember hearing about his 14-year-old son getting attacked at the Arlo SoHo Hotel in New York City, where a woman wrongly accused him of stealing her phone? Well, we’re going to talk to him about how racism can impact both your personal and professional lives.