CJ McCollum has dealt with “the noise” of his own trade rumors. And the ones surrounding his friend and close Blazers teammate Damian Lillard.
And, yet, there are much bigger priorities for the 30-year-old sharpshooter.
“You always focus on your day job — understanding where your bread is buttered, so to speak,” McCollum told The Post. “I understand how I make my living… and what’s gotten me here, so that’s my priority and my focus, but the noise, the rumors that’s part of your life when you’re in sport.
“There’s going to be things that are said about you that you can’t control — some of it is true, some of it is not true. All you can control is your mindset, approach and mentality, and I just stay focused on the goal at hand, which is to improve as a basketball player and a man.”
McCollum has remained focused on the “bigger picture” throughout the summer, especially after learning he is going to be a first-time dad.
“For me personally, [having a child] is life coming full circle and what you kind of envision as a kid,” he said.
At the time, the couple shared photos that showed off Esposito’s baby bump during Lillard’s wedding weekend. McCollum called Elise “Lil Mama” in his caption, while she called him “Daddy McCollum” in hers.
When it comes to impending fatherhood, McCollum said he’s looking forward to “everything, honestly.”
“The lack of sleep, the changing of diapers. I think all of it is a part of maturity, selflessness and going through something else,” McCollum said. “Sometimes we’re selfish as individuals and we kind of put your own interests at the forefront. So when you have a child you have to put your child and your family first, and you come second.”
The 2016 Most Improved Player said it’s been helpful to watch his older brother, Errick McCollum, become a father in August 2020 — as well as his close friend and teammate Lillard, a father of three, who welcomed twins in January. Lillard’s first-born son, Damian Jr., arrived in 2018.
“He’s a real dad,” McCollum said about Lillard, laughing.
“Watching my brother become a dad the last year was good, and to be able to see it and have someone I can bounce ideas and questions off, and ask, ‘Is this normal, is that normal?’ and those types of things you’re going to go through as a parent.
“I know what I’m getting into. I’ve watched (his nephew) little E, and I look forward to the challenge of it and the beauty in it.”
It has all been part of a hectic summer for McCollum, who is entering his ninth NBA season. Leading up to training camp, the Portland guard was the subject of trade buzz connected to the Ben Simmons soap opera in Philadelphia.
Separate rumors revolved around Lillard, McCollum’s backcourt running mate in Portland for the his entire career. Lillard played coy about his future in Portland, while openly sharing his concerns about the offseason direction of the team.
The question in NBA circles has been if the guard duo has taken the franchise as far as possible. The Blazers have been a consistent playoff contender, but have one run to the Western Conference Finals to show for it (when Portland was swept by the Warriors in 2019).
Lillard, though, said early last month that he’d be “back for more” with the Blazers this coming season to at least temporarily quell the assault of rumors.
Before McCollum found his basketball soulmate, he and Esposito met while attending Lehigh University in Pennsylvania — where he graduated with a degree in journalism and she earned a B.A. in Behavioral Science, among other degrees later on.
In September 2018, McCollum proposed in New York City. He popped the question while on a boat that overlooked the Statue of Liberty.
At the time, McCollum wore a white shirt that read, “Dr. & Mr. McCollum” on the back. He used the hashtag, “I’ll be the Mr. to your Dr.” in his engagement announcement on Twitter.
McCollum and Esposito went on to tie the knot in Oct. 2020. The expectant parents recently celebrated McCollum’s 30th birthday with a party — where Esposito gave a loving speech about her husband in front of their friends and family.
Back at Lehigh, Esposito introduced him to wine (and a never-ending love of pinot noir). McCollum fell so much in love with wine that he entered the business in 2020, and launched his own brand, McCollum Heritage 91 — inspired by Esposito.
Her favorite flower, the anthurium, sits on the label as a representation of their relationship and shared passion for wine.
Last month McCollum and Esposito purchased 318 acres of land in Oregon to manufacture their own winery, something McCollum called a “legacy project.”
“This is the next step for us. It’s the next progression in our lives to where we’re able to collaborate on ideas,” McCollum said of his “excitement” to work with his wife. “This is a cool opportunity for us to expand our legacy and grow together.”
McCollum, who was named the National Basketball Players Association’s new president this offseason, and the Trail Blazers start the 2021-22 season on Oct. 20 against the Sacramento Kings.