C.J. McCollum’s ‘Healthy Habits’: Yoga, Wine and Podcasting

C.J. McCollum’s ‘Healthy Habits’: Yoga, Wine and Podcasting

After an off-season in which it seemed like the N.B.A. never took a break, The New York Times talked to a few of the league’s stars about some of the other important things in their lives — anything but basketball.

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum is a seven-year veteran and one half of perhaps the league’s most underrated backcourt.

PORTLAND, Ore. — C.J. McCollum, the Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard, studies his performances, probing for areas where he can improve.

“I hear the awkward pauses,” he said. “I hear it when I breathe too hard.”

McCollum, 28, is always breaking down tape — of his weekly podcast. He takes his craft seriously. He has a studio in his home office and portable equipment that he brings with him on the road to record episodes of “Pull Up with C.J. McCollum,” which he co-hosts with Jordan Schultz, an analyst for ESPN.

McCollum interviews guests, dissects news from around the N.B.A., touches on world affairs — though one is now off limits — and laments the perennial plight of his beloved Cleveland Browns. He now considers it one of his “healthy habits” as he enters his seventh season in the league.

McCollum meditates. He does hot yoga. He sips fine wine. And he hosts a podcast.

“It gives me an escape,” he said.

In the process, McCollum has fashioned himself into one of the N.B.A.’s ultimate insiders: a player who shares insight from behind the curtain. He is not the only player who doubles as host — J.J. Redick of the New Orleans Pelicans and Danny Green of the Los Angeles Lakers also have podcasts, which have become something of a cottage industry for professional athletes — but McCollum is the only one who majored in journalism at Lehigh.

Now, after more than 80 episodes and nearly as many guests, McCollum is still working to hone his reportage. He listens to a playback of each episode, often in the cold tub after workouts, with the same sort of cold-eyed discipline that has shaped him into an elite scorer. He has several thousand listeners who are willing to help with his development, too.

“People were pointing out that I used the phrase, ‘You hit the nail right on the head,’ in like six straight episodes,” he said. “You really find out what your filler words are.”

Growing up in Ohio, McCollum would skim the Canton Repository at breakfast before heading to school. Reading the newspaper, he said, became a morning ritual.

“I think as a kid, it made you feel older,” he said.

At Lehigh, McCollum thought he would study business, but it was a drag. (“Too much math,” he said.) He much preferred writing papers and interacting with people, he said. After switching his major, he wrote for the school newspaper and covered a bit of everything: football, tennis, swimming. He recalled interviewing coaches after tough losses. He recalled bundling up with his notepad for field hockey games. He also recalled an important lesson about professionalism.

“Preparation is everything,” McCollum said. “You don’t like being interviewed by someone who hasn’t done their research.”

With that in mind, McCollum reads up on his guests, most of whom are fellow athletes, before their appearances on his show: their childhoods, their interests, their accolades, their hobbies.

“And then the conversation usually just flows,” he said. “I want to get inside their lives: what they do in their spare time, their story, their journey.”

One of his most recent guests was Kent Bazemore, a swingman whom the Trail Blazers acquired in an off-season trade.

“It was an opportunity to share my story with his audience and for him to hear about some of the things I’ve been through,” Bazemore said. “Any time you can open up and be kind of vulnerable to the public, people seem to appreciate it.”

Bazemore was no stranger to the medium: With the Atlanta Hawks last season, he co-hosted a podcast alongside Vince Carter.

It may be an obvious point, but McCollum has found that players are willing to open up to him because he is a player, too. There is mutual respect. But he also wants their conversations to be authentic. He does not traffic in public relations, he said, and he does not want his interviews to feel scripted.

“Like, if I’m assessing someone’s game and they can’t shoot, they can’t shoot,” he said. “And they know they can’t shoot. It’s not like I’m making fun of them.”

He added: “I just keep it real, man. We’re all peers.”

McCollum made his newsiest splash when he welcomed Kevin Durant to his podcast last year. The two had an entertaining back-and-forth that started when McCollum obliquely criticized Durant for jumping to a ready-made contender when he signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2016. Later in the interview, Durant laughed at McCollum’s suggestion that Portland could vie for a championship. It all seemed fairly lighthearted — until it spilled onto social media, with the two exchanging barbs on Twitter.

The truth, McCollum said, is that they were both playing up their purported feud in the middle of a dull off-season. It may not have been the most objective journalism, but …

“We’re friends, so it was funny,” McCollum said, “and it was really good for the ratings. I got us some really nice wine.”

McCollum was asked whether he would be interested in stirring up some controversy for the sake of this article.

“Nah” he said, “I can’t do that. Not before the season starts.”

One topic that McCollum does not plan on addressing in upcoming episodes is China, and the N.B.A.’s suddenly fraught relationship with that country after an executive with the Houston Rockets expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. McCollum has a sneaker endorsement with the Chinese brand Li-Ning.

“That’s something I’m going to stay away from,” he said.

But McCollum has big plans for the pod, with a list of dream guests he said he would love to interview that includes Sue Bird, Michael Jordan, Malcolm Gladwell, Barack Obama.

“A lot of it is getting listeners to relate to us, to understand that we have doubts, we have struggles, we have anxieties, we have stress — that there are times when we may have doubted ourselves, but we still overcame it,” he said.

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