The New Orleans Pelicans have been prioritizing having high-character human beings in the team since EVP David Griffin took over the organization's leading role. Bringing in CJ McCollum to steady a young, inexperienced locker room was part of that process. After a few years in town, it's safe to say that investment by the team is paying off for the entire Crescent City community.

Gayle Benson does not need new investors for the Pelicans or Saints. Neither does the Big Easy at large, really. All that is required from the region's professional sporting outfits is a full buy-in to a winning season and enough humility to sit down at the local sandwich shop with everyone else. McCollum has displayed those qualities consistently and spread blessings abundantly. That is why the NBPA President has been honored with the Professional Basketball Writers Association 2024 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for community service.

The award shares a name with the NBA’s second commissioner and is presented annually since 1975 by the PBWA to a player, coach, or athletic trainer who shows outstanding service and dedication to the community. McCollum beat out Miami Heat assistant coach Caron Butler, Washington Wizards forward Anthony Gill, Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving, and Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. for the honor.

McCollum won a PBWA vote consisting of over 200 writers and editors who cover the NBA regularly for newspapers, magazines, and online news outlets, per the press release.

“C.J.’s passion, generosity, and commitment to improving the lives of the youth in his community is truly impressive,” said PBWA President Howard Beck. “The members of the Professional Basketball Writers Association salute him and all the nominees for their inspiring work.”

PBWA credits CJ McCollum for representing Pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) dribbles against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jalen Williams
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The PBWA mentioned three big projects when honoring McCollum with the award. These efforts do far more for the community than 20 points per game, though those help as well.

McCollum partnered with the nonprofit College Beyond to launch McCollum Scholars, a needs-based scholarship that provides eleven New Orleans students with $100,000 apiece to pursue four-year degrees. That's $1.1 million directly into the community by way of investing in future leaders.

McCollum Scholars offers academic coaching services, mental wellness resources, career preparation, and internship placement to participating students. The educational advancement program aims “to close the education, literacy, and racial wealth gaps through access to quality education, and to create a pathway to obtaining a post-secondary degree.”

The CJ McCollum Dream Center located in the Westbank Boys and Girls Club of Metro Louisiana is another project bringing resources and pride into the community. Students can access new laptops and tablets, smart boards, laser printers, a library, virtual reality headsets, and a podcast studio in the new McCollum-funded learning center. It’s the third Dream Center that McCollum has opened, and the first in Louisiana.

McCollum's work with the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights and the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition was mentioned last but is just as important to the star as any other outlet. McCollum visited the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center and Travis Hill School in New Orleans to talk to teenagers who have made mistakes but deserve a second chance.

It's the first time McCollum has been honored by the PBWA but it is not the last time his work in the community will be felt by the citizens. That legacy will last long after McCollum's playing days are over and this award is just another piece of evidence on how much difference one person can make.