Who's Vegan in the NBA? Why These 5 Basketball Players Turned to Plants to Up Their Performance

“I try to teach my players that what we’re doing is greater than ourselves,” JB Blair told VegNews recently. “Any accomplishments that we may have as a team, it’s because we sacrifice the best parts of ourselves for that. And I think that my vegan diet, my plant-based choices, are a true testament to that.”

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Blair, who is a former basketball player and current assistant coach for the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball League (NBA), represents a shifting attitude in basketball towards food. Now more than ever, players are choosing animal-free options. For many, it’s about nutrition (a plant-based, whole-foods diet is widely regarded by experts as one of the healthiest ways to eat), but for some, like Blair, it’s also about purpose and ethics.

DeAndre Jordan, for example, who plays for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, decided to stop eating animal products in 2018 for his health and the planet. “I just wanted to be able to have some kind of impact on us bettering our environment,” he said at the time. The meat industry has an enormous toll on the earth. It contributes 14.5 percent of global emissions and is one of the leading drivers of deforestation and habitat destruction in the world.

Not everyone has switched to veganism completely. Players like Jalen Hood-Schifino, LeBron James, and Jalen Brunson have all experimented with plant-forward diets, keeping animal products to a minimum. And while many players are yet to take the leap and ditch meat completely, some are intrigued by the lifestyle.

Talking about fellow player Chris Paul, who went vegan in 2019, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors said on the Smartless podcast last year, “The vegan lifestyle has taken over the league. Honestly, I don’t know how they get their calories. I know there is a science behind it,” he said. “One of my teammates, Chris Paul, now who’s been I think vegan for about four years. I’m fascinated by what he brings on the plane or at mealtime, you know … how he gets his nourishment.”

Blair was thrilled about the impact that Paul’s diet change had on the NBA. “I was so happy he did it because to have a player of that magnitude make that decision, it starts to open the eyes of players around him,” he said. “And also, it made teams aware that they needed to make modifications for those players.”

Paul, Blair, and Jordan are not alone. Several players in the NBA are leading the charge towards totally vegan diets. Find out more about who they are below.

Who’s vegan in the NBA?

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1 Chris Paul

As mentioned above, Paul—a 12-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic Gold medalist, who is currently playing for the Golden State Warriors—has been vegan for around five years now. After making the move away from animal products, the 38-year-old noticed a major change in his energy levels.

“When I first went plant-based, it was for performance purposes but once I saw how my body changed and how I felt—it was for life,” he told GQ. “Years ago, I probably wouldn’t have even gone outside to run around with my kids and all the other activities because my body would be aching. Now, with the constant lifting and making sure that my body is always ready, it’s been a good lifestyle change for me.”

Paul has also worked as an ambassador for several plant-based brands, including Beyond Meat and Eat Just.

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2 DeAndre Jordan

Jordan, another long-standing NBA player, who has played 16 seasons for the league, was initially motivated by environmental concerns to give up animal products. But he has also claimed he feels better for the move.

“One day, cold turkey, I just was like, ‘This is what I’m doing,’” Jordan told vegan chef Latisha Daring on his vegan cooking show Cooking Clean, which was created in partnership with Eat Just and Beyond Meat. “It’s been great for me ever since … Once you educate yourself a lot on what you’re putting in your body and where the protein is actually coming from, [going vegan] was an easy decision for me.”

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3 Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving, who plays for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, adopted a plant-based diet in 2017. “Getting away from the animals and all that, I had to get away from that. So my energy is up, my body feels amazing,” he told ESPN at the time. Since then, he has invested in Beyond Meat and involved himself with organizations that strive to bring healthy plant-based foods to people struggling with food insecurity and homelessness. During the pandemic, for example, he donated 200,000 Beyond Burgers to a New York City food bank.

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4 JaVale McGee

In 2016, JaVale McGee, who currently plays for the Sacramento Kings, decided to ditch animal products for good, saying at the time that diet helped him “get up and down the court.” He has also invested in the vegan pork brand Outstanding Foods, and like Irving and Paul, he’s an ambassador for Beyond Meat, too. Plus, he has worked with the vegan sports nutrition brand, Vega. “Following a plant-based diet has led to an enormous improvement in my performance as an athlete,” McGee said in 2019. “It’s literally been a game-changer. I’m excited to finally partner with a brand that has played such a pivotal role in my journey over the past few years.”

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5 Cade Cunningham

Cade Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons hasn’t eaten animal products since high school, apart from one incident during the FIBA World Cup in Greece in 2019. “We weren’t accustomed to the food that we had out there,” Cunningham told ESPN in 2021. “So, I started back eating burgers and things, [but] on that trip, I told myself, ‘I’m going back to vegan, and I’m sticking to it.’”

Like many of his fellow NBA stars, Cunningham has partnered with popular brands to promote plant-based foods—in 2021, he also became an ambassador for Eat Just, promoting the brand’s liquid vegan egg.

For more on vegan athletes, read: