Dear Portland

Craig Mitchelldyer/AP Images

Dear Portland,

You know how I know it’s been real? 

I didn’t get Woj bombed. I didn’t get Sham’d. I didn’t wake up to 100 text messages from my friends and family freaking out. There was no drama. I actually knew this was coming.

As crazy and cold-hearted as this business can be sometimes, in this case everything was truly transparent and honest. That's how strong my bond with the Blazers organization is. We knew that this chapter, as beautiful as it’s been, was coming to an end.

And shoutout to my guy Chris Haynes, but I have to tell the inside story of this thing myself. This is so personal to me that it’s only right. 


It's actually funny because the night before the trade went down, I was in the locker room with Dame, and we were just cracking jokes and talking, and right as I was about to go into the steam room, my phone rang. And if you know me, then you know I always have it on Do Not Disturb. Except with everything going on around the deadline, I put my agent in Favorites so his calls would go through no matter what.  

So when the phone rang, it was like that horror movie kind of ring. Everybody stopped. I looked down at my phone, and I saw that it was him.

And Dame was just looking at me like, “Oh damn, is this it? Is it really happening?” 

We had been talking about the trade rumors for so long that it was almost like a joke to us, you know? It was like we’d talk around it, because it was just too much. It wouldn’t sink in. 

I’m like, “Hold on, lemme see what’s going on. I might be right back.” 

I went out into the hallway, and my agent told me that things were coming together with New Orleans, but that it wasn’t a done deal yet. He told me to hold tight. So I walked back in the locker room like, “Not yet!!! I’m still here, bro!!”

Wolf of Wall Street style, you know? LEO. “I’m not f***in’ leavin’!!!! The show goes on!!!”

We were laughing, because what else can you do? 

Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images

Obviously, when I left the building that night, I knew that might be the last time we were all together. But it was cool to be able to leave on my own terms and not get The Call in front of everybody or have somebody come pull me out of practice. No, the way everything went down was perfect. We have a one-month-old at home, so we can count the REM sleep on one hand at the moment. The next morning at 6 a.m. me and my wife got up to feed Little Man. And it was kind of fitting, and kind of poetic honestly, because we’re sitting there in the house that we built, in this city that we love so much, and the sun’s not even up yet, and I’m half asleep and holding my son in my arms. All the dads out there know why this moment is hard to put into words. 

Right then, my phone rings. 

At 6 a.m., you already know who it is. 

I pick up and it’s my agent, and he tells me that the deal is finally done. I’m going to New Orleans, for real. The news would probably break in a few minutes, so get ready. 

And I remember just sitting there with my wife, and Little Man is all quiet, and everything in the house is peaceful, and my phone isn’t blowing up yet, and we’re just looking at eachother like: Wow. O.K. What now???

This is not just business. Portland is home. You don’t spend nine years in a place like this without it having a deep impact on you. I’m not talking about basketball. I’m talking about your soul. I wasn’t even sure how to say goodbye to everybody. That night after the trade went down, I went to our practice facility to get all my shoes and my orthotics and everything from my locker, and none of the guys were there. It was kind of surreal, because I wasn’t sure how quickly they’d have anything wrapped up, but when I walked in, they already had my nametag taken down from my locker and everything. Our equipment managers already had my stuff laid out and folded perfectly for me in front of my stall. (Thanks Eric and Cory, I’ll miss you guys).

You don’t spend nine years in a place like this without it having a deep impact on you. I’m not talking about basketball. I’m talking about your soul.

CJ McCollum

My plan was to leave a signed jersey on everybody’s chair in front of their locker, but by the time I got done with the security guards and the staff and everybody who made every day in Portland so special, I literally had no more jerseys left for my young guys on the team and I had to send out I.O.U. texts. You know it’s been real when you got so many homies in the organization that you run out of jerseys and you gotta place an order for more. (Shout out to my guy Todd Forcier, the best strength coach in the NBA — when I come see you again on March 30th I’m bringing you a jersey and a 30-PIECE MCNUGGET, don’t worry!!!) 

In a way, I’m really happy that nobody was around, and I got to look at my locker one last time and take it all in, because I feel like if I saw my teammates, then I’d have probably lost it. It’s so funny, when Dame finally came in and he saw the jersey on his chair, he texted me like, “Damn bro, you really gon make me cry!” 

We can’t have Dame crying. The kids can’t see that. That’s like seeing Deebo cry. 

The thing you have to understand is that me and Dame really grew up together in this place. This is crazy to think back on now, but I remember my first year in the league, whenever we were on the road, we used to shower as fast as possible after the morning shootaround, throw on our team sweats and then go straight to the mall. No naps. No security. Nothing. Just like two kids skipping school. We’d be in San Francisco or Houston or somewhere just walking around the Galleria for hours, going into random stores, and this was before the big checks, so we’re talking very mid-tier stores. We’re talking 30% off. Give me that. I’ll take 30%. We’re definitely going to see what’s going on in Macy’s. Might have a smoothie. Might have a soft pretzel. 

I remember my rookie year, I wanted this one watch so bad, and to me it was crazy expensive. We’re talking like 3k, but I was so paranoid about going broke that I kept going in and talking to the guy at the counter and then walking out like, next time, next time, next time. Dame was like, “Bro, get the damn watch. You’re in the NBA.” 

I’m like, “I’m not trying to be on some E:60 documentary in 20 years, bro!!!” 

So I squirreled away my road trip per diem for like two months, and I ended up paying for 50% of the watch in per diem money. I still remember walking in there and being so nervous when I gave the dude my card. And you can laugh if you want, but that watch is really meaningful to me, and I definitely still got it. It reminds me of a certain time when I was still just a kid, new to this whole game, new to this city, new to everything. 

Me and Dame used to walk around the streets for hours and no one even recognized us. Blazers sweatpants on and everything. Sometimes we’d get back to the hotel and hop straight onto the bus to go to the arena still carrying a bunch of shopping bags and all the old heads would be looking at us like, Come on.

What’s funny is I think about it now like how were we on our feet for three hours and then we’d go play 35 minutes that night? That’s unthinkable now. I need my naps, man. I need my meditation, my stretching, my recovery. It’s crazy to think about how much has changed. Because now after shootaround, me and Dame are just constantly on FaceTime with our sons. But when you’re young, life is a movie. You’re living the dream. 

I remember Dame started getting recognized first, and I was still incognito for a little while, and in the back of my mind, it was like, Man, when’s somebody gonna come up to me? That’d be pretty cool. When am I gonna see some kid with a number 3 jersey? 

I remember my second season, I still wasn’t starting, and I vividly remember telling Dame one day, “I’m never gonna start here, man. Why’d they even draft me? I don’t get it.” 

And Dame looked at me crazy — you can picture his face — and he’s like, “What? Bro, we gon’ be running this backcourt together someday. We’re gonna be here for a long time. We’re going to change this place. You’ll see.” 

And I was like, “Whatever you say, but I’m not seeing it.” 

He’s like, “You’ll see.” 

Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

Cut to the playoffs that year, and I scored 33 against the Grizzlies, and I remember Dame running up to me after the game saying, “See? See? What I tell you?” No smile. Straight faced. “We can play together. We gonna run this shit.” 

He had the vision. I don’t know how he saw it, but he did.

Without my teammates, none of this means anything. It’s just business. And man, did I have some incredible teammates over the years. Mo Williams. Earl Watson. D-Wright. Evan Turner. Moe Harkless. Chris Kaman. Shabaaz. L.A. I could go on forever. 

And of course Nurk. I can’t forget Big Nurk.

My Bosnian brother for life. 

I’ll never forget when he fractured his leg in 2019, and he was stuck on the couch, I’d always be FaceTiming him to make sure he was cool. But then one day I decided to stop by his place, and when I came in all I heard was gibberish coming from the TV room, and he flipped the channel to SportsCenter or something. And I was like, “Bro, don’t mind me. It’s your house. Let’s watch whatever you normally watch.”

He’s like, “You sure you want to watch what I watch?” 

I’m like, “Yeah, why not?”

And that’s when I got introduced to Bosnian television. And we’re not talking subtitles here. This was the pure uncut internet livestream straight from Bosnia. There was a lot going on, man. I want to call it like a soap opera, but it was also kind of like a comedy? There was a handyman, and he was pursuing a young woman, and that seemed to be the main plot point, but then they’d flip it and do all sorts of crazy bits. 

I kept turning to Nurk, like, “Alright, so he’s a mechanic now? And he’s trying to get with her, or…?”

I’d be thinking it was a serious scene, and then Nurk would start laughing and looking at me like, Funny right? This guy is crazy.

And all this time, Nurk’s luxurious imported cats are roaming around the house, and he’s drinking his customary 7-to-10 cups of coffee. It’s a whole vibe when you go to Nurk’s place. He’s petting the cats, telling me, “You have to get a Furbo. I’m buying you a Furbo.” 

(He really did.) 

After I got traded, when I called Nurk to tell him I left a jersey on his chair, he said, “Oh, I already got one.”

I said, “What???”

He said, “Yeah, I stole one from the equipment room after your last game.” 

My teammates, man. That’s what I think about. Not the Ws. Not the Ls. My teammates. Those are the memories that are flashing through my mind as I write this. 

Craig Mitchelldyer/AP Images

Yes, of course, I think about me and Dame waking up at six in the morning to work out on four hours of sleep when we were out in Vegas one summer. I think about all those perfect screens that Big Nurk set for me. But honestly, the memories that are coming to mind for me right now are the little things. Me and Nurk watching Bosnian TV that day.

Dame’s dad making me oxtails when they had me over for Thanksgiving one year. The first time I tasted real Oregon Pinot Noir at a vineyard with Tim Frazier. The first time I tasted volcanic soil at Ringside. Eating at Departure after every game, same big table every night. Sitting in traffic sweating because LaMarcus Aldrige made me go get him Krispy Kreme every morning my rookie year. The time LA sent me to get wings and gave me $500 and told me not to tell Wes and Nico so I could get money from them, too. (You the real MVP, LA!) Getting a text from D-Wright after practice that said, “Come downstairs, rook. I’m taking you to eat.” (Now I’m the one taking care of my rooks.)

The little things. 

Just being out in downtown Portland for the first time after getting swept by the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, not really knowing what the mood in the city was going to be like, and having countless people come up, like, “Hey, I just want to say thank you. That was an awesome run. We love you guys.”

I mean, we got swept, and we still didn’t pay for a dinner that whole summer. It was all good vibes. People were so appreciative of how we were able to turn the mood of the franchise around. To me, that’s what Portland is all about. People didn’t treat me like a basketball player, they treated me like a part of their community. 

This was not just a jersey, to me. This was not just a franchise. This was my home. I got married here. I became a father here. I started my own business here. I literally put roots down in the soil here with my vineyard. A part of me will always be here in Oregon, especially with my community work. I’m excited for this next chapter of my life, but don’t worry, I’m still on my DiCaprio. 

This was not just a jersey, to me. This was not just a franchise. This was my home.

CJ McCollum

I’m not f***in leavin!!!!! 

Not really. This will always be a second home to us. 

That morning when we got the news about the trade, when we were just sitting there wondering what to do next, and everything was still quiet, I told my wife, “You know what’s cool? This wasn’t an ugly breakup. This place has been great to us, we’re leaving on good terms. What more can you ask for, really?” 

I wanted to go to New Orleans. That’s the thing that really takes away the sting. Just purely as a pure hooper, I’m so excited to get to go play with Zion and B.I. and Valančiūnas and all those young guys. I really feel like I bring a lot to the table in terms of professionalism and preparation, because in nine years I’ve seen everything in this league. I’ve gotten DNPs, I’ve dropped 50, I’ve been doubted, I’ve been hyped, I’ve been in Game 7s, I’ve hit game winners, I’ve missed game winners. When you’re young in this league, you don’t know what you don’t know — take it from an old head who used to walk around the mall all day. There’s a lot of wisdom I think I can bring to the table in New Orleans and I’m really excited just as a human being to be moving to the city to catch some football games at the Superdome. (My son is still being raised a Browns fan, though, I’m sorry.)

Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports

After all the rumors and the speculation, this worked out perfectly, in the end. No drama. No nonsense. Total professionalism. What more could I ask for? 

To everyone in Portland — 

To my teammates, to the organization, to the fans, to the whole community….



I’ll see you on the other side. 

This connection we have runs so deep. It’s more than words. It’s more the the Ws. It’s more than what happened on the court. For me, it’s nine years of laughter and pain and heartbreak and joy and spiritual growth. It’s everything. 

At the end of the day, when I look back on it all, it’s crazy how far we came as a franchise. In a smaller market, way up in the corner of the West Coast, we made a whole lot of noise. We made a whole lot of memories. We stayed loyal. We represented this city with integrity, every day. 

I’ll always be proud of that. 

Maybe we didn’t reach our ultimate goal. That’s basketball. That’s life. 

But dammit if we didn’t try, Jennifer.