Zach LaVine is an All-Star, the sweet confirmation finally coming Tuesday night with the results of the Eastern Conferences coaches' voting for the reserves. And now that LaVine officially is an NBA star, perhaps it's just the beginning.
"You want to be MVP of a championship team," LaVine was projecting to local media on an evening Zoom video call after the announcement. "Obviously, if we continue to play the right way and I'm playing at a high level, I can see myself as All-NBA team. If I continue to up my defense and being consistent, I can see myself as an All-defensive team guy. So that definitely is individual things that I have on my list that I want to check off."
But even more than finally stepping into the long overdue spotlight, LaVine is intent on bringing Chicago along for the ride.
"You play for a team like the Chicago Bulls, you're not going to have a lot of individual accolades that haven't surpassed," LaVine said with a wry smile, every basketball player here inevitably compared, of course unfavorably, to Michael Jordan. "I'm very thankful, and I think you know this, so happy to be a Chicago Bull. I was when I got here, to be a part of this franchise and help us get back to where we're supposed to be. Just to be mentioned among somebody like that and some of the other greats that have played here just shows that I've been doing the right things and I'm going to continue to uphold that.
"I think we're moving in the right direction," LaVine added. "I think we're just going to continue to climb because Chicago Bulls sports needs to be, obviously, always at the forefront; at least in my mind."
Thank you, Zach LaVine.
Zach LaVine was officially recognized as an All-Star on Tuesday night.
Zach LaVine grew up in Washington state. He went to college in Los Angeles and he was selected in the NBA to play in Minnesota. Perhaps not stormy, husky or brawling, as Carl Sandberg famously described Chicago in his epic poem. But Zach LaVine wants to become the rare professional athlete to offer his big shoulders to help lift Chicago back to excellence.
Congratulations Zach, and welcome home.
LaVine's first All-Star selection is a personal accomplishment, but also an achievement for the organization, the team and the coach. LaVine, as Shaquille O'Neal noted during the announcement show, has been "tearing up the league."
LaVine was disappointed the last two seasons when he wasn't selected despite raising his game, averaging more than 23 points in 2018-19 and more than 25 points last season. But with the Bulls spiraling through injuries, personnel and coaching changes and losses, LaVine's feats lacked NBA relevancy.
Not so much this season as the Bulls are in playoff contention with LaVine committed to enhanced team play. Even with that, the gymnastic 6-6 LaVine again increased his scoring average to more than 28 per game while averaging more than five rebounds and five assists and among the league leaders in shooting.
Still, LaVine has been consistent in acknowledging he understood his individual talent would be obscured until he enjoyed team success.
"You're a little frustrated (being overlooked in previously seasons)," LaVine admitted. "You feel like you were wronged. But then you want to go out there and prove your worth and prove what you can do. So having it happen makes this a little more satisfying.
"Even if I didn't make the (All-Star) team, I knew that I was one of the better players in the Eastern Conference," LaVine said. "I have my team fighting for the eighth spot to get into the playoffs, and that was my main goal. Once you start winning everything comes with that. Individually this has helped me out (making the All-Star team) and it was deserving. I'm thankful for that. But it makes you more hungry. You want more for me and the team. I'm excited to see where it goes from here. I'm definitely not content. I definitely want to keep pushing that envelope.''
It's an encouraging indicator for the Bulls, who are quietly returning to relevancy in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls now are tied for No. 7 in the Eastern Conference at 14-16 with four wins in their last five games and six in nine. LaVine's been leading that turnaround averaging 31.1 points per game in February with a recent eight-game run averaging 35 points, the only Bulls player other than You Know Who with that kind of scoring proficiency. Like LaVine said, however, it's not about he or Jordan. It's about Chicago. That's what you want to hear from your best player.
Which also speaks to LaVine's high character and decency. He's always been one of the most popular teammates and players around the NBA. And when asked what meant the most to him about achieving the midseason star status, LaVine said it was the look on the faces of his mom and dad.
"I was more happy for that, the excitement that they had, than my own excitement," LaVine said. "Seeing the look on their face. Obviously, my mom and dad just saying that they're very proud of me and they're happy I made it. Obviously, they get to go and enjoy the festivities (LaVine said he may try the three-point contest again, but he's retired from the Slam Dunk as a two-time champion). They enjoyed me going there as a young guy, going and winning the dunk contest and it was incredible,. Now they get to go with me as an All-Star. My fiancee (Hunter) saying, 'You've been playing great and are deserving.' Just the look on their faces; it's been a long time coming. We put a lot of work in for this and my support system is always there for me and has my back. Just to see the looks on their faces and showing that I made them proud is more than enough for me."
Zach LaVine thought that he was getting ready to answer questions from the local media before a surprise was in store for the first time All-Star.
Because family is what LaVine always has been about, the Bulls becoming part of that extended family. It was LaVine's father, Paul, a former professional football player, who helped drive Zach. And mom Cheryl did a lot of driving. His family surprised him with a congratulatory call (virus isolation precautions) as LaVine thought he was about to fulfill his media responsibilities.
"Kind of pranked me," LaVine laughed. "But as long as they're there with me—and I always take them there—my close group and family, I'm going to be perfectly fine."
Because they've been there the entire time, through the long days and nights practicing as a kid, the highs of being drafted and the lows of suffering the severe knee injury and requiring ACL surgery. And then the halting comeback, the myriad doubts from outsiders, the losses piling up, a half dozen coaching changes in seven seasons, the lack of playoffs or payoffs.
"It definitely is a journey and a process," said the 25-year-old LaVine. "Going back to even when I was little, it's always been hard work. You fall, you get up. You can't stay in the same place. You can't have a ‘poor me' mentality. I've always had a ‘I'm going to show you' mentality. It goes back to me and my dad being outside in the rain shooting 500 shots with plastic garden gloves on, to me hurting my knee and fighting back from that, being traded and now fighting to help my team get in the playoffs.
"My dad, from the Goodwill, he went and bought one of those flimsy hoops and eventually it broke down," LaVine said. "So then he ended up nailing a hoop to a tree. That's what I would shoot on. Put the gloves on and you still got to go out there and shoot. It's something that I look back on now and you get very appreciative of it. He was on me, making sure I was always going out there. He wanted to try to treat me like a pro, so I came back after (games) and got shots up. I had to write down every time how many shots I took, the workout I did. The thing I started to realize is he can't want it more than me. I came to the realization that I have to want this more than him."
A star isn't necessarily born. But it can be developed.
"It's always a fight," said LaVine. "You always enjoy that. When you get some success and some recognition, it means a lot. I appreciate that. The process is definitely enjoyable."
LaVine spoke evenly with perhaps more satisfaction than excitement for about 25 minutes from his Chicago apartment. He was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. Over his left shoulder was a photo designed by Jimmy Mitchell, who is part of Bulls Creative Services. He designed the photo of Michael Jordan arm-in-arm with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. LaVine became enamored with the game after seeing Space Jam and patterned is play after Bryant's. He yearns to challenge James.
"Those were my guys growing up," LaVine said.
Now he's one of Chicago's guys.
"At the end of the day, I love basketball," said LaVine. "I'd do this if I got paid zero dollars. I've put in so much work for me and my family. I would do this until I die."
For now he's leading a Chicago basketball rebirth. It takes a star.