Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine was in the midst of a career-year when the NBA decided to suspend the 2019-20 season due to COVID-19 outbreak. Through 60 games, the 25-year-old was averaging 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 3.1 threes and 1.5 steals while shooting 45.0 percent from the field and 38.0 percent from three-point range.
During the NBA stoppage, LaVine continues to make a significant impact, buying over 612,000 meals for people who are struggling due to COVID-19. HoopsHype caught up with LaVine to discuss his monster season, Chicago’s front-office hires, what the Bulls must do to improve, his home workouts, “The Last Dance” and much more.
You became a more vocal leader for the Bulls this season. What prompted that and do you think it was effective?
Zach LaVine: I think you just have to grow into it. It was a big thing for me to kind of learn that. It doesn’t just come from day one – it takes experience and ups and downs. I was just finding my voice. I’ve always been able to lead – even when I was a rookie, I feel like – with my work ethic and how I worked out and played hard and things like that. But when you’re the leader of the team, it has to be more than that. It has to be vocal, you have to be in the gym, you have to take no plays off every day, you have to be the one who’s held accountable and you have to take that ownership. I think I did a good job, but obviously I’m going to continue to get better at it with more experience, the more years I have [in that role]. I think my view of it is: If you’re the best player and you’re the leader of this team, then there’s no excuses for you. Go on out there and put yourself out there – even to make mistakes – because you’re the one leading and at the forefront of it.
You averaged 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 3.1 threes and 1.5 steals through 60 games this season. You were having a monster year. What were the biggest factors that allowed you to take that next step in your development and have this career-year?
ZL: I just continued with the hard work. Obviously, I set goals for myself every year, and I plan on continuing to do this. You have to believe in yourself, obviously, and it’s something that doesn’t come as a surprise to me because I thought that I was able to do this, I thought I was capable. But you have to go put it into play as well. You have to just keep going out there and doing what you have to do. I was happy that I was able to be put in this position, and you have to take advantage of it when opportunity knocks. From day one, I feel like I did that when I got traded to the Bulls.
I believe you should’ve been an All-Star. Are you using that snub as motivation?
ZL: I mean, I took it and used it as motivation last year. I thought I had an All-Star-caliber season last year too. But what I’ve learned through this and through basketball is that everything comes with winning. I really just want to be a winner because everyone benefits from it. It’s something that all of the great players do. It doesn’t matter if you put up 40 points a game, you’re not going to be looked at as a winner.
Coming out of high school and college, I’ve always been a winning player. Now, I just want to do it in the NBA. Then, I think you’ll get the recognition that you deserve. I’ll take it with a grain of salt. Obviously, I think I was an All-Star. I think I’m an All-Star player. I have bigger and better goals than even All-Star for myself because that’s the type of work I put in. Once I get that winning pedigree, I think it’ll all come out.
Let’s talk about that: In your live-stream with Sam Mitchell, you said that the hardest thing to do in the NBA is win. You’ve developed into a star, but I’m sure you badly want to make your playoff debut. How hungry are you to experience that?
ZL: I’m extremely hungry. [Winning] is something that I want to do and get better at. The hardest thing in sports is learning how to win. It drives me because I’ve accomplished a lot of things, but that’s something that I haven’t accomplished. I’m looking forward to the chance to go out there and show everybody that we can do this – not just individually, but as a team. People count you out and you take that and use it as motivation; at least, that’s what I do. It’s just something that I look forward to and hopefully we can get back to the season soon, so that we can start this up.
The Bulls recently hired Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley to run their front office. Are you familiar with Arturas or Marc, and have you had a chance to talk to either of them yet?
ZL: Yeah, I’ve talked to them both and I’m extremely excited to get to working with them. It’s something that I think we needed – a switch-up so that the Bulls fans can see that we’re looking in the right direction and getting better. Obviously, we all love the work that Gar [Forman] and Pax (John Paxson) have done for us and the city of Chicago. I think the fans sometimes give them a hard time because they want the results here and now, but it’s hard to do that in sports. It really is. They had a really good run at it, and they’re still beloved. Obviously, I’m just excited to get this started and get right into it.
Are there any specific things that you’d like to see happen this offseason?
ZL: I just hope everybody is willing and prepared to sacrifice. You have to be able to sacrifice sometimes to get to what you want – whether that’s fun or numbers or things like that. I hope everyone is making their sacrifice and getting in the gym and trying to get better. That’s the biggest thing for success. At least for me, it always comes from hard work. I’m going to continue to do that and I hope we all come back ready to focus.
Because I thought we approached this year like we were going to be good and we weren’t. We didn’t have the chemistry, we didn’t have the right mindset. We got a little bit shocked; we thought we were going to do really well and we didn’t do well. We have to come back and prove people wrong.
Your father, Paul, played in the USFL and NFL. Drew Hanlen told me that your dad pushes you really hard and deserves a lot of credit for helping you become a great athlete. Can you walk me through how your dad has helped you and the work you guys have put in over the years?
ZL: My dad played growing up, so it may come across a little weird, but it got to the point where if he’s not my friend, that’s okay. When people are pushed in certain ways, some people go towards it and some people get pushed away. For us, it gave us a stronger bond.
From a young age, every day when he came home from work, we went outside, shot our shots and worked out. He didn’t have to do that. But he held me to a high standard as a young kid. He’d put me through little drills and things like that. I was almost mimicking a pro lifestyle, where I had to get shots up before practice and things like that. After games in third grade, he gave me [mock] interviews. He was trying to prepare me.
You and your dad turned his home near Seattle into a workout compound with 50 yards of football turf, a basketball court, bands, weights, a 30-foot inflatable hill and more. When did that compound come together and how much has it helped your development?
ZL: Once again, that’s a credit to him. I obviously wanted to get my parents a house and when I went to Minny, I was able to retire my mom and my dad. Being able to do that was probably the most important thing to me. When I talked to my dad, I asked him, “Where do you want to live?” He wanted to go live outside of Seattle. It’s not in the city where we grew up or anything, it’s more in the country. He wanted four acres, and I was really confused why. But, again, he just had a vision and he wanted to be able to make me better in the offseason. For me and my boys (who play overseas or in the G League), it’s the place where we all work out. We have a full-sized basketball court, we have 50 yards of turf as you said, we have batting cages, we have a full weight room and a lot of other things. It’s pretty cool.
You’re in Seattle now. What are your at-home workouts like and what are the main things you’re focusing on right now?
ZL: With the pandemic, you have to stay safe obviously. One of my best friends played in Italy this year, so we made sure he got home and was safe. But we’re practicing social distancing still. I’ve just been around my immediate family – my fiancée (now) and my parents.
I’ve been having my same workout, really, that I do in the regular offseason. I work out pretty much every day, get my shots up and lift a lot. I’m still lifting to try to keep my body in shape. The main thing me and my dad have been working on right now is just staying strong and not putting on too much weight. I like my frame right now; I’m about 205 lbs. Maybe I’ll get up to 210 lbs. but I don’t want to get any bigger than that. I just want to be able to stay strong at that size. Having my same routine has been good; I’m fortunate that I have this set-up, so I can work out the same way I would in a regular offseason.
I’ve talked to some guys who are struggling because they don’t have access to a court or workout equipment. Do you feel like you’ll have an advantage once basketball is back since you’ve been able to keep working out throughout this time?
ZL: Yeah, that’s why I feel really fortunate that I have these amenities. It’s obviously something that was put in place way before we knew what was going on with everything in the world. I’m just so happy that I can keep my same routine and my same work-out lifestyle. Because, like you said, it’s tough for a lot of people who are limited. I was able to come back home to Seattle; I got out of Chicago before they announced the [travel] restriction. I’ve been lucky.
I love that you’ve been helping people impacted by COVID-19. You bought 600,000 meals for people in Chicago and 12,500 meals for people in Seattle. You also bought 360 meals to feed healthcare workers in multiple Chicago hospitals. How did that come together?
ZL: I just want to do my part. The heroes of everything right now are the healthcare workers. And we just have to look out for the less-fortunate families who aren’t getting the proper food or who are out of work so they aren’t able to afford certain things. But [buying meals for] the healthcare workers was a big one for me because they’re the ones who are trying to save the world. It’s bigger than basketball, it’s bigger than yourself. It’s nice being able to give back and help, and I just wanted to do my part.
I have to ask you about “The Last Dance” – ESPN’s documentary series about Michael Jordan. Four episodes have aired as of now. What do you think of the documentary so far?
ZL: I think it’s great. It’s really cool to get an inside look at these things. It’s obviously a lot of stories that we’ve heard and seen, but just to see the entire background of how it all happened is great. There’s a lot of stuff that you don’t know, especially as someone who was born in 1995. I was obviously a huge Michael Jordan fan and I watched all of his tapes and highlights when I was growing up, so I know a lot about him. He was one of my inspirations to play basketball along with Kobe Bryant. But there are just little things that I didn’t know about, so I think the series has been really good up to this point. It gives me something to look forward to every week, just sitting on the couch and not moving for two hours. (laughs)
Your 25.5 points per game makes you the Bulls’ highest-scoring player since Jordan. What does that mean to you? And when you see those Bulls teams winning title after title, does it fire you up and motivate you to make the Bulls a contender again?
ZL: I tweeted this out yesterday as I was watching it: Any time I watch it, I want to go outside and work out or play or do something. You miss it. I appreciate you telling me that stat! That’s something that I didn’t even realize until you just told me! (laughs)
It’s cool, but you won’t be recognized as great or get put where you want to be put for individual things – you need to have that team success. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward to helping the Bulls get back to where we’re supposed to be.
I’m surprised you hadn’t heard that stat!
ZL: Yeah, I just learned that from you! I knew D-Rose averaged 25.0 points when he had his MVP season. I guess I’m not doing too bad!