John Salley on veganism in the NBA

John Salley, an 11-year NBA veteran, is one of the league's biggest proponents of veganism. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Former Detroit Pistons big man John Salley has spent a lot of his retirement advocating for veganism. He does so at a time when the lifestyle’s gaining powerful advocates in Bill Clinton and Serena Williams.

Williams' veganism, in particular, intrigues me because of the sports connection. If she continues to have well-publicized success, I wonder if athletes in other sports will follow.

As such, I decided to ask the NBA's biggest vegan voice to weigh in on whether this is the wave of the future in basketball and elsewhere.

Note: I am not a vegan (yet), and I do not know enough to explicitly endorse John’s recommendations. I do, however, explicitly endorse the idea that it’s enjoyable to take in John Salley’s pontifications.

Were you more aware of your mortality because a lot of taller guys have health problems? Is that something you were aware of that led you to these decisions?

Yeah. When Wilt Chamberlain died. Any kind of blockage is heart disease; when you have a blood clot anywhere, that’s heart disease. When Wilt Chamberlain died, strongest man I ever met in my life, I started paying attention.

One of the reasons I’m reaching out to you is, I’m reading about all these prominent guys going vegan. The CEO of Whole Foods (John Mackey) says he’s lost all this weight and gained all this energy. Bill Clinton just went vegan and says he’s lost 30 pounds and gained all this energy. Do you think you would have been even better as a player had you been on this vegan diet?

Oh my God, if I was a vegan when I should have done this thing, man? I remember when I became a vegetarian and my game changed. I couldn’t imagine if I was a vegan back when I was playing. The thing about the NBA, any pro sport, is, guys don’t know how to take care of their body.

It’s funny. They got trainers around to help them lift weights, throw all this weight up, parachutes. All this other crazy stuff. But they don’t have guys who say, “Hey. This is how you take care of your body.”

1990, the Summer right after we won my second championship. The [team doctor] was like, 'Yo, man, your cholesterol is the highest on the team.' It was higher than Tree Rollins and James Edwards, the two old guys when I was playing.

I tell guys all the time, like DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul. Chris Paul is in the best shape he’s ever been in now. But there’s enzymes [Paul needs to] take. Don’t take vitamins, those kinds of vitamins just normally you see guys throw in. I explain to guys what the stimulation of their body means.

Is Chris Paul eating less meat these days?

No. I was with him, he’s probably eating [meat]. I showed him the less seafood you eat during the year, the less aches and pains and arthritic, the less acid you put in your body, the less alkaline you put in your body, the better it is.

I once was vegetarian for a year and I can remember my friends making fun of me. With guys, [eating meat] is very gendered. Do you think that’s an obstacle to guys going vegan or vegetarian in the NBA?

You know what’s funny about guys who make fun of you for not eating what they eat? If any of those guys had a date with Megan Fox, they wouldn’t be able to take her to a steakhouse. And what, they’re going to laugh at you? They’re going to sit around and go “You’re stupid, she’s not that hot, I’m going to eat a dead animal”?

If people laughing at you changes the way you do things, then they don’t need to be entertainers. Because there’s going to be people booing, laughing and throwing things. Those are called audience members.

[I ramble about Anthony Bourdain’s espoused apathy regarding where food comes from]

If you’re a professional athlete and after the game, you’re eating at the same place that somebody in the audience is eating at? You’re making a mistake.

Especially because the places open that late aren’t serving good food for the most part.

Well, usually anything after 10 o’clock is not that good for you.

I explain to athletes, you’re supposed to be a well-oiled machine. You’re supposed to be in better shape than the people watching you. You’re supposed to be an unbelievable specimen of a human being. You have to treat your body different while you’re performing.

Think about how Serena [Williams] winded up having a heart situation, two years ago? Right? Since then, she hired my friend, her and her sister Venus. Venus had [Sjögren's syndrome].

They hired my friend Lauren Vanderpool to be their chef, because Lauren was one of the greatest chefs I ever met. Knows so much, really good at preparing food, raw-slash-vegan. And Serena’s number one again. And Venus is playing with power again. And it has to be the food, what these two smart sisters decided they were going fuel their body with.

I know Glen “Big Baby” Davis said he was going vegan.

I had that conversation with Big Baby the year after they won the championship. (Imitates Davis’ voice): “Man, stop, you gotta be kidding me! Yadda yadda.” Then, he realized what it was.

Do you know any other NBA players who have gone vegan, other than Big Baby Davis?

James Jones is vegan.

I didn’t know that. I know he’s a really smart guy.

He’s a really smart guy because he wears my old number, 22.

I don’t know if that’s scientific, John.

It’s scientific, bro! If you wear 22, then you’re a smart guy.