PORTLAND, Ore. — CJ McCollum is leaving Rip City for the Big Easy with no hard feelings and a lot of love for Portland, he wrote in a letter to the city and fans.
In an open letter titled "Dear Portland" published in the Players' Tribune, McCollum looked back on his nine seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers and the memories he made here after the Blazers announced he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans earlier this week.
"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," McCollum wrote.
He shared fond memories of his rookie year with Damian Lillard: walking through the streets together without being recognized, relishing in 30% off sales as they milled around shopping malls together before road games, being too nervous to splurge on a $3,000 watch despite his NBA salary, and only buying that watch after he'd saved up enough of his road trip per diem money.
CJ recalled when a young Dame told him one day they'd be running the backcourt together — which he refused to believe at the time.
"He had the vision. I don’t know how he saw it, but he did."
McCollum thanked his teammates, especially for the relationships they maintained off the court — Thanksgiving dinner with Lillard's family, how LaMarcus Aldridge made him pick up Krispy Kreme every morning his rookie year, the time Jusuf Nurkic introduced him to Bosnian television.
"The little things," he wrote.
He thanked Rip City fans for their support through the years, recalling when even after the Warriors swept the Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, he never felt any hate from the fans.
"People didn’t treat me like a basketball player, they treated me like a part of their community."
McCollum said that's what Portland is all about, and he promised he'll be back.
"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."
McCollum ended the letter with a callback that Blazers fans will remember well.
"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."