In November, after falling into a 13-0 hole against the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylan took Zach LaVine, the team’s starting point guard and leading scorer, off the court. The Heat went on to win 116-108—a late surge by the Bulls making the score look less lopsided—but the decision to sit LaVine stirred speculation on trust between player and coach. The very next night, LaVine scored a career-high 49 points and went 13-of-13 on 3-pointers, tying Steph Curry for an NBA record. He also hit the game winner, giving his team a 116-115 win over the Hornets. Speculation—perhaps—over.
Men’s Health caught up with LaVine the week before all those ups and downs for an inside look at player who does the literal up and down better than just about anyone in the league: the dunk. And how does the 2x NBA Slam Dunk Contest Champion do the dunk? “I feel like I got a lot of it from working out and doing plyometrics—doing different squats,” explains LaVine, as he shows us down to the basement of his Chicago apartment, which he’s converted into an iron man cave. “I worked extremely hard at it with weights and jumping.”
Weighted exercises like trap bar deadlifts and plyometrics help give LaVine the leg strength and explosiveness he needs to get up high. But LaVine also has some natural hops; he says he first dunked as a 5’8” eighth grader after going up for a layup and “accidentally was high enough” (LaVine was drafted 13th overall by the Timberwolves in 2014 when he was 19 before getting traded to Chicago for Jimmy Butler a few years later).
LaVine has his routine. He wakes to an alarm, arrives at practice an hour early, eats (eggs, tomatoes, bacon, ham, sausage and a smoothie are all in the mix), stretches in the training room, and then starts shooting. During the season, basketball is every day. Still, LaVine says he comes down to his own gym 3-4 times a week for recovery. Mostly, LaVine’s goals are maintenance—high reps to keep him in season shape and retain muscle, but not put on too much. “I’m not the biggest guy, but I try and stay strong for my position,” he explains.
LaVine still works out with his dad—a former professional football player. The pair does resistance training in the sand, which LaVine says keeps the workouts creative and fresh.“You gotta fall in love with the process of it,” he says. “There’s gonna be good days and bad days—just like life. It teaches you mental toughness.”
LaVine’s dunk-aiding diet includes plenty of preparation (and pasta on game days), all of which he says has actually helped to elevate his game. Though vegetables are often absent from LaVine’s kitchen (“You’re not gonna see a whole lot of green in here,” he jokes, pointing to his fridge), he’s become more disciplined. “I’m a giant sweet tooth person,” LaVine says. And he admits the stories are true—every once in a while, you will indeed find candy in his socks; he likes jolly ranchers. Now, LaVine turns to fruit for a sweet snack or popcorn for a healthy savory alternative. How does he prepare his hot dog on cheat days? Chicago natives might want to cover their ears for this one.
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