Zach LaVine speaks about what his life is like during these strange times, and the importance of family.
Zach LaVine was enthusiastic and eager, and he hadn't given up.
The Bulls were back on the road, headed for Florida and hopefully some magic in the heat with games in Orlando and Miami. LaVine's quad injury had improved and he was planning to play on the trip. It wasn't much, but there still seemed to be a glimmer. The Bulls were coming off a home win against Cleveland, their second in the last five, the three losses by a basket or two. Rookie Coby White had gotten his first start, finishing a run in his last nine games averaging 26.1 points. LaVine has been scorching, averaging 29.8 in his last six games before the injury. Finally, a chance to see this dynamic backcourt together, the "dynamic duo" of the future LaVine had been anticipating.
"I was trying to get ready to play again, Orlando or Miami, one of those games. So I was excited," LaVine was recalling this weekend in a phone interview. "We started hearing news about they might not play games with fans when we were on the plane going to Orlando. We're like we weren't taking it that seriously, like ‘Right, that's not going to happen.'
"And then it just went so fast."
That was just over two weeks ago in one of the most unusual and stunning fortnights in the lifetime of most Americans. It wasn't the Fortnight video game, but there was suddenly a need to save the world.
The nation is virtually shut down because of the worldwide COVID-19 virus. All sporting events have been postponed or canceled, and those guys who were flying just about everywhere—both to American cities and inside arenas—are grounded, the Bulls high flying leading scorer now at home just outside Seattle.
LaVine understands he's more fortunate than most given his substantial guaranteed salary and a comfortable home. So he's stepped up to help, providing meals in the Seattle community that he plans to extend to the Chicago area.
"Everywhere is hard hit now, but the West Coast was first being one of the quicker fights from Asia," LaVine noted about the expedient Washington state response. "When I got back to Seattle, I wanted to do be able to do something for my hometown. Jamal Crawford is one of my mentors, one of the best people you can meet. We talked about things and he's kind of the mastermind behind everything because he is so big in the Seattle community. I'm back and forth, but he's here.
"I got with his organization and Feeding America, where I could donate meals to those in need," LaVine said. "We donated 13,000 meals. We're doing some more things and we're starting to do things in Chicago as well, for people working in the hospitals, the nurses and doctors and health care professionals who are helping us. I'm finding the best way to go about it. There are so many different people being affected by this that you want to make sure it goes to the right places."
On the basketball court, LaVine has been a wizard. But like with Dorothy, for him there's no place like home. So once the Bulls fast-break began heading in all directions, Zach's was back where he grew up, where he remains in the offseason and where his parents live about 20 minutes down the road. For everyone at a time like this, it was best to return to their safe place. Zach's always has been with family.
"With the news of the virus hitting the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz, I was playing video games," LaVine recalled. "I was pretty locked in and had my headphones. My phone just kept buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, my dad, my agent, friends, my girl calling, and I finally realize all this was happening. We didn't know what was going on because everything was put on hold so fast. Then the next day we headed back to Chicago and they said the season was going to be suspended. They don't know until when. We stayed at home in Chicago and it came out it would be suspended for at least three weeks.
"I'm a big family person," LaVine noted. "Seattle and California were getting bad. My sister and my dad were in California and my dad took my sister and drove back to Seattle and I wanted to be with my family. When I got the A-OK to go home, I left like 5 in the morning.
"I was scared," LaVine admitted. "I was going to get a private plane. My best friend, Perrion (Callandret), who played with the (Windy City) G-league team came with me. He said to just buy the seats in first class so nobody is sitting next to you. We got the flight to Seattle early in the morning and there were like 11 people on the flight. It was the weirdest thing because you were like flying the plane by yourself.
"I'm doing good," LaVine said. "But it's so crazy with everything on social media. I'm not saying things are being blown out of proportion, but if somebody coughs, if you have a regular sneeze it's like everyone is thinking you have the virus; everything's so tense. When we got back home everything was green. My girl sneezed and she was like, ‘Oh, my gosh!' I said, ‘Honey, remember you have allergies.' It's really serious, but we can't freak out."
And so life for the Bulls highest scoring player since Michael Jordan—LaVine was averaging a career-high 25.5 per game when the season was suspended—has become like most everyone else's. A virus makes no exceptions for athletic excellence.
"Kicking it," said LaVine. "Going to my dad and mom's house sometimes. In the beginning, it wasn't that different from what a typical offseason would be. When you first get back home, you take time. I'm watching movies, back in my house, reorganizing my house a little bit. I just moved into this house last summer. So I didn't have much furniture, pictures.
So I'm looking around and saying I can decorate my house a little bit. Getting things out of boxes, unpacking the house. But that got old pretty fast.
"I play a lot of video games and obviously the big thing now is people are getting into the video game community. I'm starting to do that as well," LaVine said. "I'm creating my own Twitch account because I play video games so much, anyway, and I have a pretty big following with that. Me and my girlfriend (Hunter Mar) play dominoes and board games. I work out. I play with my dog in my backyard. I've got about a half-acre backyard, so that's been good. I've been fortunate because I've been able to go outside my house in my yard and get some fresh air and things like that.
"The weather has been a little weird," LaVine said. "The first week here was pretty warm, like in the 70s, nice and sunny, green, fresh air. The last five days, it's rained every day. Summertime it usually doesn't rain that much, but it's March. I'm not supposed to be here in March.
"My parents' house has a basketball court, so we go up there every once in a while. It's good to be able to be around family," LaVine agreed. "And I'm able to shoot and things like that. My girlfriend is getting a lot better at cooking. She's been experimenting. She's making food every night since you can't eat out or anything like that.
"I make my same eggs and bacon every day when I wake up," LaVine said. "But she's been trying to get me away from that. So we're eating different, some steaks, chicken, and rice. She's trying to get me to eat more vegetables. She's been doing really good, trying different foods. I've been trying them. I don't think everything's been good, but about 90 percent has been spot on."
It was at that point there was some commentary in the background. LaVine laughed.
Then I had to ask about the Bulls season, which has been painful in a different way. LaVine has been the rock who has kept the season from crumbling entirely. He's averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and steals, and he hadn't missed a game until the recent calf strain. Though LaVine wasn't named to the All-Star team, he emerged among the NBA's elite as he turned 25 this month.
He was 12th in the league in scoring and seventh among guards. He was in the top 15 in steals and had six games scoring at least 40 points, including two of his last six games. He was averaging 29.8 points in that stretch. He averaged 28.5 points per game in January and 27.9 in February, helping keep the Bulls going with so many falling around him. His 49 points with 13 of 17 threes in Charlotte was one of the NBA highlight games of the season. He was sure this was the season he'd finally play in the playoffs three years removed from ACL surgery.
"To be blunt, I'm upset," LaVine admitted. "We had high expectations coming into the season and it didn't go our way anyway we could have thought of. We played through some adversity, but we didn't go out there and do what we were supposed to do as a team.
"I've been in the NBA six years now and it just gets frustrating," LaVine said. "I want to be in the playoffs. We really (believed). I haven't played in a playoff game and it wears on you. That's what you work so hard for and continue to play for."
But LaVine is optimistic about the team's prospects with White and believes in his teammates to make a recovery from the injuries.
"I'm looking forward to getting back out there," LaVine said. "Obviously, I love playing and I can't stand missing games. I hope the season continues. As a competitor you want to go out there to do what you can to help. We have to get this thing right; we really do. But it's a tough time for everyone. For now, the most important thing is to make sure you are safe and your family is safe. That's all I've been trying to worry about."