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CJ McCollum talks social justice, basketball, and wine in Orlando

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JANUARY 24: CJ McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on January 24, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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As a VP of the players’ union, CJ McCollum has had to grapple with important issues the past month as the Trail Blazers prepare to head to Orlando for the NBA restart. The health and safety of himself and other players. And how to use the NBA platform to maintain and further the social justice movement while on the Disney campus.

Then there’s how to make sure there is enough good wine in the Orlando hotel where he stays.

“I’ve already organized my shipment to come in…” McCollum said, with a smile. He (along with LeBron James and others) is a member of the league’s growing wine-loving culture. “I’m sending some of my stuff down there as well [McCollum has his own wine label], so it will be a nice change of speed, especially during that isolation period we have to go through [upon arrival] when we have to spend 24 to 48 hours in our rooms without leaving. It will be nice to watch TV shows and have a nice glass.”

Organizing wine shipments has been just one of the many things on McCollum’s plate lately, from talking to fellow players about life in the Orlando bubble to talking with his father about grooming and style through a partnership with Old Spice.

McCollum admitted he’s been glued to his phone talking to players for a month or more as momentum for the NBA restart picked up pace. As a vice president of the National Basketball Players’ Association, players were reaching out to him for answers — answers that kept evolving over time.

So did the questions. At first, the questions were about whether or not there would be a return to play, how it would work, and what life would be like in the bubble.

“But now it’s more around what impact we can make to support what is going on in the real world, to continue to support Black Lives Matter and the things we’re facing as a society,” McCollum told NBC Sports. “Those are the calls we’re having now. How can we impact? How can we spread awareness on certain things in the world that are going on? …

“The biggest thing is to take advantage of the platform [in Orlando], to coincide with the NBA and figure out productive ways we can continue to spread information, to continue to educate, to continue to put light on things that have often been behind closed doors and never been brought out to the public eye. So I think those are the conversations we’ll continue to have.”

Even those social justice questions are starting to evolve, McCollum said, changing from how players and the league can make a statement to how they can help take concrete steps to further that change.

“We’re definitely looking for actionable items and collectively we’re brainstorming ideas on how to empower the masses, especially minorities, to vote,” McCollum said. “To try to put an emphasis on voter suppression where you have cities that might have one polling place for 600,000 or 700,000 people. We’re trying to eliminate those kinds of situations and the key is to educate as many people as we can.”

Voting rights are just the tip of the iceberg. There is also a focus on other issues, such as prison reform, McCollum said. Also finding ways to get people of color move into more powerful positions in Fortune 500 and other major companies — including the NBA. McCollum emphasized the NBA needs to lead by example.

Then there was taking the time to sit down with his father and talk grooming, something Old Spice put together recently for Father’s Day.

“It was really, really cool. Thank you to Old Spice for bringing us together and helping us catch up,” McCollum said. “We discussed style and grooming from the ‘50s, 60s, ‘70s up to now. It’s really understanding why I really take so much pride in my overall grooming, my overall health and overall freshness.”

On top of all that, there’s McCollum’s day job — a 22.5 point a game two guard for the Portland Trail Blazers, a team heading to Orlando with a real belief they can catch Memphis as the eighth seed and become a dangerous playoff team.

McCollum and his teammates have been working their way back into shape, but players from all teams are concerned about not ramping up too fast after this forced break. Nobody wants an injury.

“I think going through training camp, the restart, coaches and trainers are going to have to be very careful with the load increase,” McCollum said.

It’s going to be a lot of work for McCollum, work that will not stop when the Portland charter touches down in Orlando.

At least when McCollum heads back to his room he knows there will be a good bottle of wine waiting for him.