A “journalism lesson” from an athlete usually consists of a harsh rebuke of a story deemed overly critical or negative—sports figures have been airing out sports writers since the invention of the printing press.
C.J. McCollum is different. The Portland Trail Blazers’ 28-year-old All-Star guard is both a 20-point scorer and a staunch advocate for a free and informed press, having majored in journalism at Lehigh University. An accomplished blogger/podcaster, McCollum intends to make writing his career after basketball. He shares his knowledge and appreciation of the craft through Press Pass, a program designed to promote interest in journalism and literacy among Portland-area high school students.
McCollum brought a version of Press Pass to Leo students on Monday, Nov. 25. Bill Figel, Leo’s journalism teacher, reached out to McCollum through the Trail Blazers, described Leo’s journalism program and sought a meeting with McCollum for the “Leo Newsmen.” McCollum was amenable, but last year’s meeting had to be postponed because he was injured and missed the Blazers’ only trip to Chicago.
He honored his commitment this year, meeting with 15 Leo Newsmen for roughly 20 minutes in the United Center stands before the Blazers played the Bulls. Open and approachable, McCollum told the students that he started writing game stories through his own eyes while a student at Lehigh, and that doing so helped him recognize things in the flow of a game he might otherwise have missed. He took courses to sharpen his grammar and punctuation and expand his vocabulary, and he talks regularly with NBA beat writers about how they developed their stories and came by their insights.
He said these conversations left him with a better understanding of a reporter’s job, so he has a less adversarial relationship with “the media” than many pro athletes. He said he hadn’t been keeping a journal, but he planned to start because “writing is like any other skill. You get better at it by doing it.” After his playing days, he hopes to write a book about his life in basketball, as well as a children’s book explaining the game to youngsters and biographies of people he finds interesting.
McCollum had some important advice for the Newsmen as he wrapped up the discussion. “I’ve got people on the South Side of Chicago. I know how it is down there. You guys be safe,” he said.
With that he went out and dropped 21 points on the Bulls, with three rebounds and three assists in a 117-94 Blazers romp.
“He’s a great guy, and he played a great game,” Leo junior Caron Gordon said. “That was a fun night.”