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Q&A With John Salley

Former NBA champion promotes a plant-based diet

All Animals magazine, May/June 2016

  • Photo by Melica/Shutterstock.

The sporting world may have vegetables to thank for retired NBA star John Salley’s greatness. As a child, he was in and out of the hospital, so much so that it became a financial burden for his family. Practically out of options, his mother resorted to nature’s cure and began feeding him more veggies. “Every time I ate vegetables, I felt better,” said Salley, who went on to win four NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. He adopted a plant-based diet 16 years ago.

His own well-being isn’t the only reason he embraces the lifestyle. In this edited interview with editor Tracy L. Scott, Salley proves he’s equally passionate about the health and welfare of all creatures. 

What advice would you give to athletes who worry a plant-based diet won’t sustain their physical needs?
I was talking to this 800-pound gorilla the other day, and I go, “You only eat vegetables?” Then, I looked at this giraffe so tall and beautiful and only eats leaves.  Everyone wants to be as strong as the ox, and they forget that the ox eats grass. Yes, when you take on the vegetarian/vegan diet, the first two weeks are going to be great, and then you’re going to hit a down spot. That’s because your body is detoxing. Once you get to the point that you can eat just vegetables and you look forward to eating just vegetables, you will see how you become one with the universe. You become more conscious; your sexy will kick back in and you will be in the top position you need to be in.

What’s your advice to people on the fence about switching to a vegan diet?
I stopped paying attention to everything I was told and I started paying attention to everything my body was asking for. … I tell people all the time, when they go, “Man, this is good” and I go, “What’s in it?” They go, “Why do you always ask that question?” Why wouldn’t you ask? Pay attention to what you put in the body. This is the only body you have. If you put things in that are grown, that come out of the ground, that come off a tree, that’s grown from a stalk, it will benefit you.

Why did you decide to publicly comment on Cecil the lion’s killing last year?
We needed to yell as loud as possible. It wasn’t just the killing of Cecil. This dentist is not the face of big-game killing, but we needed a face. We needed somebody to point to. We needed to show something. I didn’t want to make everybody feel bad, but I wanted to say, “Just like you feel for that animal’s life, you should feel for all animals’ lives. You should feel for life. Period.”

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