The Chicago Bulls are one of the best stories in the NBA this season. After a hectic offseason, Chicago has turned into a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference, entering the All-Star break at 38-21 — they’re either going to be in sole possession of the 1-seed once games resume or tied in that spot with the Miami Heat, depending on the outcome of Thursday’s game between the Heat and the Charlotte Hornets.
Chicago’s ascent has been fueled in large part by offseason addition DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, both of whom earned the distinction of being All-Stars this year. Before they make the trek to Cleveland, Dime caught up with LaVine to discuss the Bulls, getting to see the work he’s put in over the years in Chicago pay off, his new Mountain Dew ad with Charlie Day, and more.
It’s the rare commercial that’s really funny. What was your experience like on set with Charlie?
That’s the thing, Mountain Dew does a good job of obviously, making it funny and light, and that’s one thing I really enjoyed. I got to see Charlie’s part and talk to him, but we weren’t able to actually do it together, obviously COVID related, we try to keep everybody safe. But I think they got some good movie magic and they can definitely scrap some stuff together to make it look good. So, I’ve seen the edit and it’s really good, it’s really funny. So I appreciate being part of the campaign.
What’s it like getting to do these sorts of things away from the basketball court and showing off your personality a little bit?
It’s really cool. I mean, a lot of people, just a regular fan of you or a team, will just see you as a basketball player, and being able to even talk like this in a platform, getting to see me in a different light, show mine so my personality, hopefully some good acting skills. I think it’s good that everybody gets to see another side you outside of being a basketball player.
Is Hollywood Zach LaVine going to be coming anytime soon or are you gonna stick to hooping for now?
I mean, obviously, I know what I’m good at, but I definitely can see myself doing something like that, you know, later on, or any opportunity, I never want sell myself short. I think I might be a good actor if I put my hard work and time into it, but just not right now, not full-time. [laughs]
I talked to Coby White earlier this offseason, he said, you guys had expectations coming into the year, but you’re taking things one day at a time. What was your approach this offseason, and how are we seeing that as people who didn’t see the work that you and the team put in?
A lot of the team is is new, and there’s only about two guys that were on the team last year, I think that’s Coby and Pat. And you know, for a team, we got into camp really early, which you don’t really see guys sacrificing their summer. We got in, I think in August, a lot of guys met in August before training camp, even, just to get familiar with each other, get some chemistry down, some continuity. For me, personally, I sacrificed a lot of my time this summer, obviously doing the Olympics, and I think that was just an incredible experience for me, being able to be around winning culture, players in my caliber, and seeing how other guys worked, what made them great, as well, and how you have to sacrifice for a winning team. I think that all comes into fruition when you’re a really good team, everybody has to sacrifice something for a greater good, and I’m all about winning right now.
Was there a game, practice, a moment — even if that moment is you hear about DeMar coming — you found yourself going, oh, there’s something really special here, we could legitimately be a team that’s fighting for the one seed and has a chance to make some real noise in the playoffs?
Yeah, I mean, I was in a lot of those conversations, I was able to talk with DeMar before the season, and having a relationship with him going and working out with him was great. Knowing Zo, playing against him, and then obviously having a guy like Caruso come in as well that’s had championship experience — shoot, he has a championship not just experience — but you know, he’s an extremely high IQ guy. And then getting on the court with all those guys, I think, was the first time where … training camp, it just felt different. There’s a different attention to detail, a different competitiveness, and you’re looking around, you’re like, oh, ok, it’s just not, in years past where you’re like, ah, we’re going to have to see how it is and things like that. It was a real moment of okay, we can really do something special here.
And it’s hard not to watch you guys and see a group that is just so totally on the same page. I’m guessing it comes from that offseason work, where everyone seemed like they had a similar mindset of “we’re going to sacrifice now and it’s going to pay off later.” Is that fair?
Yes, that’s more than fair, and I think just us coming together in the first year of such a new team and being able to play this way and have this chemistry is a tribute to some of that sacrifice. I can’t wait to see what it looks like in year two and three, not even just counting this year.
And it’s paid off for you individually in your second All-Star nod, just found out you’re going to be getting that. What’s it like getting that call when you’ve gone in the past, and knowing that you are going to be going with a teammate this time around?
It’s really fun. Any time you have a chance to get selected, it’s an honor. Not a lot of guys get to experience that, and it for it to be my second time, and also being on the short end of the stick a couple of times, my first couple years in Chicago, where obviously you feel like you can make it but you might not be in position to, and there’s a lot of factors with “deserving” and things like that. Going there with a teammate is gonna be my first time doing that, I think it’s gonna be really fun, also having Ayo in the rookie game as well, which will be really fun. It’s just a blessing, man, just have to be very happy and understand that it’s a special year.
I’m going to be asking about Ayo in a second, but I want to ask about DeMar first. Watching you and him cook is just so much fun, what has made it so easy to build up that bond where you guys look like you have been playing together for years?
You have two guys that’s coming into the year that obviously have a chip on their shoulder, first and foremost. There wasn’t a lot of people believing in that tandem, and you know, us coming together in offseason and talking about it and working together, spending time together, working out, and then coming into the season, was had some really good chemistry already, not even playing with each other, and then, just understand how play, play off each other. And I feel like it helped me a lot, and he’s been in situations where he hasn’t had a scorer or player like me on the other side, and vice versa for me, and just taking advantage of that opportunity to go out there and put the team on our back sometimes is really fun.
I could go through the roster and ask about dudes, but it feels like the guy catching everyone’s attention right now is Ayo. I watched him in Illinois, that do just fights and fights and fights. What about him has made it so he’s gained everyone’s trust as a rookie so easily?
He’s just a worker, and for a rookie — obviously he did a couple more years in college, he came into the league a little bit more NBA ready than some guys that are one-and-done. But for a rookie still not being here, he asks a lot of questions, and it just shows he really wants to learn, and he’s invested into getting better and what he can do for the team. Whatever the coach asks him to do, or whatever we ask him to do, he does it, doesn’t ask questions, and he does it well. And I think just his confidence has gotten better and better each and every game, and he’s gonna be special, man.
You’ve been in Chicago for a few years, you’ve put a ton into the Bulls really captivating that city again, and we’re seeing it now.
How would you describe the feeling of running out into a packed United Center, Bulls fans going crazy, and knowing it’s the result of years of hard work, taking your licks, and getting to the point you’re at now?
Yeah, and being on the side where it wasn’t like that at first, and now being able to have some of that, and hopefully in the future have more of it is huge. Because like I said, I put in a lot of work, I think this is my fifth season here, so it’s a long time coming, and it shows how much hard work and how much the organization has trusted me, and I appreciate that, and it’s coming into fruition a little bit, so it’s exciting to see.
What is it about Bulls fans, Chicago as a basketball city, all that, that you really love?
I love how much they’re invested into it, and how much they care. Even in the years where — besides this last year, where we weren’t winning as much and didn’t have a lot of talent on the court — they were there every single day cheering people on. You see them in numbers, you see them on the streets, you see on social media how much they care and how much they invest into their team.
Chicago deserves a winning organization. Like I said before, they’re one of the most storied franchises, they had the greatest player of all time play here. So, they have pretty high standards, but they deserve it, because that’s what they’re used to. And I think that’s what I want to help them get back to.