With the departure of their veteran core, the Chicago Bulls are ripe for a rebuild—and 22-year-old Zach LaVine is ready to lead the charge.
There’s not even a hint of hesitation in Zach LaVine’s knee as he dribbles casually around the court at the Bulls’ practice facility across the street from the United Center. In truth, he looks far more comfortable with the basketball in his hands than without it.
It’s been a long road to recovery for the young guard, who in February tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while on duty for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “I feel good, working every day,” he says. “I’m dialed in; I have no fear. Whatever I have to do to come back, there aren’t going to be any restrictions on my game.”
At just 22, LaVine is the new face of the Bulls franchise. He arrived in June as part of a squadron of ’Wolves players (including point guard Kris Dunn and power forward Lauri Markkanen) traded in exchange for all-star guard Jimmy Butler and the rights to the 16th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The Bulls—having also bid an unsentimental adieu to aging stars Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade over the summer (and injury-prone former MVP Derrick Rose the year before that)—have all eyes on the future. And for fans desperate for even a glimpse of the former glory the team enjoyed in the ’90s, LaVine may just be their best hope.
The two-time dunk contest winner, known for his high-flying acrobatics, is settling in well to coach Fred Hoiberg’s system. “He lets us tell our own story,” LaVine says. “He just has a special mind for offense.”
LaVine has already fallen for Chicago despite his short residence: He threw out the first pitch at a White Sox game. His favorite restaurant? A toss-up between Gibson’s in the Gold Coast and Gus’s Fried Chicken in the West Loop. And—of course—he’s been on the architectural boat tour and “looked at the giant ocean-lake.”
As a childhood fan of the Michael Jordan-and-Bugs Bunny flick Space Jam, LaVine has found a special significance in becoming a Bull. “This is what people dream of,” he says. “It’s the biggest franchise in basketball, and you get to play in the footsteps of those great players. You just want to go out there and do the best you can and represent the city.”
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