2-time NBA dunk champion Zach LaVine on gaming, eSports, and influencers during COVID-19

zach lavine techfirst

You’re an NBA all-star. What do you do when the league’s shut down thanks to Coronavirus?

Well, if you’re Chicago Bull and 2-time NBA dunk champion Zach LaVine, you work out … you play Call of Duty or Apex Legends, and apparently … you give away free headphones.

In this episode of TechFirst with John Koetsier we chat with Zach LaVine about gaming, eSports,  and yeah, influencer marketing. All brands want huge stars, including JBL … but when all major leagues shut down, what do you do?

We also ask Zach the TechFirst 10-in-5:

  1. Favorite piece of tech gear in your house
  2. Can’t-do-without-it tech that you wear
  3. Android or iOS?
  4. EV or gas?
  5. Mac or Windows?
  6. GIF or JIF?
  7. Favorite tech news source?
  8. Do you want a self-driving car or do you want to drive yourself, forever?
  9. Elon Musk offers you a trip to Mars. In or out?
  10. Alexa or Hey Google or Hey Siri?
  11. Bonus Q: over-ear or on-ear headphones?

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And get the full transcript: Zach LaVine on TechFirst

John Koetsier: You’re an NBA all-star. What do you do when the leagues shut down thanks to Coronavirus? Well, if you’re Chicago Bull and 2-time NBA dunk champion Zach LaVine, you probably work out a lot. You play some Call of Duty, Apex Legends and apparently you give away free headphones. 

Welcome to TechFirst with John Koetsier. Most tech companies do influencer marketing, they do a lot of it and all brands want huge stars. But when all the major leagues are shut down, what do you do?

Today we’re chatting with 2-time NBA dunk champion and Chicago Bull, Zach Levine, as well as Chris Epple, who’s a VP at JBL. Chris, welcome! Zach, welcome!

Chris Epple: Thanks for having us.

Zach LaVine: Yeah you’re welcome. 

John Koetsier: Super happy to have you guys here. And Zach, we’ll just start with you. I mean, you’re doing a lot of e-sports and gaming right now. I’ve got to say, I gotta ask what’s better? Sports or e-sports? 

Zach LaVine: I mean, obviously I know what my profession is. I’m not a professional gamer, but I try to, especially during this time. So, you know, I’ve been doing my thing in the e-sports gaming world, I’ve been trying to at least. I got on some Twitch services and Facebook gaming and things like that. So it’s been fun to connect with more fans. 

John Koetsier: It’s pretty cool. And it’s a different thing than when you’re actually on the NBA court, right? Because you’re on the NBA court, you’re with a team, you’re in front of fans, but it’s something that you can’t connect individually with fans and you can’t have a running commentary or something like that. A little bit of a different experience, I guess. 

Zach LaVine: Oh yeah, for sure. And it’s, you know, obviously it’s something that you’re not accustomed to either. I’m not a professional gamer, so they get to see me fail a lot in that environment, but it’s fun though. I try to communicate with the fans and be in the chat with them and play different games with them, but it’s all for fun and it’s something different for me.

John Koetsier:  Zach, we’ll stick with you for two seconds. You’re giving away JBL gaming headsets. Why is that? 

Zach LaVine: Man, I just wanted to be able to … obviously I love JBL, but partnering with the kids and being able to give back during the pandemic has been something I wanted to do, and partnering with JBL is just finding a way to do that. You know I think everybody should enjoy music headphones, and different ways of using them, even if it’s gaming or anything of that sort, it’s fun for me. So just being able to partner with them and it’s been good. 

John Koetsier: Rock and roll. Chris, we’ll turn to you here and we’ll just talk about, you know, every big brand wants big stars obviously to rep their products. JBL, you were at Woodstock, you’ve been around a long time. You’re in Yankee Stadium, now you’re in Zach’s living room. How’s that working for you? 

Chris Epple: Well from looking over his shoulder, hopefully we’re in his backyard too. 

Zach LaVine: Yeah. 

Chris Epple: So first and foremost, we want to make sure that all our employees are safe and protected to the extent that we can. And beyond that, we’re really using the power of our brands to make sure we’re promoting the message of staying home and keeping safe. And at that same time, we’re using this opportunity to talk to our consumers and actually ask them what can we do for them. What value can we provide for them?

So actually on Instagram Live we did a poll right when Covid-19 hit, right when the shutdown started, and we asked consumers, what do you want from JBL? And we did polls and answers, things like lighthearted gaming, give us some music, give us some swag, giveaways, you know, so we actually were using this time to actually reconnect with consumers directly. 

And then certainly this is a prime moment for us to reinforce the pristine audio quality of our products. So movies that were supposed to be in movie theaters are now playing in your living room. Nights out listening to music are now nights in listening to music. And then lastly, we have our ambassadors and there’s one of them right there with Zach, and we know they want to do their part and do good, like you said… so we did a giveaway to give headphones away to students to help promote e-learning across the country. We use all of our ambassadors, Zach was our lead for Chicago, to help promote the idea of study from home. 

John Koetsier: Super interesting. I mean, we see a lot of sports that are going to e-sports right now. We saw NASCAR of course, real race car drivers who are actually driving a car in a game, it’s kind of like the headsets or headphones are the new Air Jordans. 

Chris Epple: Haha, yeah, now that’s a fair point. And as we navigate this unprecedented moment right now, we have to, all brands need to be prepared to re-pivot, redesign, re-imagine what their brand stands for and what role they can play for their consumers. And from a marketing perspective, right this minute, if you think about it, headsets are as important as sneakers are for an athlete who can’t get on the court right this minute. So we’re trying to use that to our advantage as a brand.

And you know, fans are looking to hear from Zach, they’re looking to hear from athletes, so we’re trying to build that connection. And quite honestly, ambassadors are the best way for us right now to show off what our brand is and how to entertain their lives. And I always say this, I always say all brands want to be the coolest brand in the room, right now, quite honestly, I think you want to be the most relatable brand in the room. You want to be the brand that figures out how to connect with consumers, how to connect with your ambassadors and build that right dialogue for them in this really unforeseen moment in culture. 

John Koetsier: Hundred percent, I can totally see that. Zach, let’s turn back to you.  The NBA was the first major North American league to shut down thanks to Coronavirus. What are your thoughts on a return? What are you hearing? 

Zach LaVine: Man, it’s crazy because we’re hearing around the same thing you guys are, you know, we’re getting the information slowly, but I know our NPPA and the NBA and the league office is working hard. I think at the end of the day, there’s so many options, but there’s so many different things that they have to work out with just being safe as well, and it’s something that you shouldn’t rush because obviously families’ health and lives are at stake with this.

So once everything settles down, I think everybody’s going to want to get back to returning to play and sports and all that, because that’s our living and obviously we’re entertainers and we want to do that, but it just has to be safe first. And I mean, at the end of the day, like you said, I’m staying ready, I’m working out a lot, so when that time does come I’ll hit the ground running. 

John Koetsier: Yeah. It’s got to be safe for you too, right? I mean, obviously you care about the fans, but it’s got to be safe for you and your family. You are putting yourself at more risk really, because you’re moving around potentially different stadiums, not only your teammates, anybody who might be in the stands. It’s really challenging.

But this has been a really good year for you. I mean, you’ve improved basically every year in the league. You’re having your best season, statistically speaking, this past year, kind of tough to have it happen this year. 

Zach LaVine: Yeah, man, and you know, like it’s the way the world is man. You’ve got to roll with the punches. Obviously nobody was trying to have this happen and it’s not a ‘poor me’ moment  either way. It’s something that just happens, there’s so many things going on with the world that you know, basketball might not be a top priority, even though it is our lives and our livelihood, you have to look at it in the big picture.

So, it’s unfortunate and it’s sad, but at the end of the day, man, I’m happy with the work ethic that I instilled in things I’ve done this year and I’ll continue to get better.

John Koetsier: Very, very cool. So you kind of answered a little bit off the top when we were talking about making mistakes on the e-sports and the gaming, stuff like that. It’s kind of like being a two-sport threat. The basketball and gaming… if you had to pick one game, what would be the game that you would be a full-time Twitch streamer on?

Zach LaVine: Wow. The thing is, man, I’m not really good at a lot of games. I’m really not. I’ve been trying to get a lot better at Call of Duty, but still, I’m not anywhere near what you can say is good. I’m decent at Apex. I would probably go with Destiny. I’ve been playing Destiny for a long time since I entered the NBA, so I guess I have the most experience with that one. So I’ll probably go with that, but if not, I’ll go with Call of Duty because it’s probably the funnest. 

John Koetsier: Excellent, excellent. Very, very cool. Well, you’re in good company. I completely suck at games, especially controllers. If you give me a mouse and a keyboard I might do okay, but I’ve got to ask you… this is TechFirst and I’ve got to ask you ten questions in five minutes. Rapid fire. 

Zach LaVine: Got it.

John Koetsier: Favorite piece of tech gear in your house, what’s your favorite gadget in the house? 

Zach LaVine: Favorite gadget. Oh… my PlayStation. 

John Koetsier: There you go.

Zach LaVine: There we go. Yeah. 

John Koetsier: Awesome. Can’t do without it tech that you wear? 

Zach LaVine: Can’t do without it tech that I wear… headphones count as wearing? 

John Koetsier: Yeah, counts as wearing. 

Zach LaVine: I’ll go with, you know, speaking to the brand, I’ll go with my JBL headphones. 

John Koetsier: Smart man, smart man. Android or iOS? 

Zach LaVine:  I’ve had nothing but iPhones, so I’ll go with iOS. 

John Koetsier: Awesome. EV or gas? 

Zach LaVine: Gas. Yeah sorry, I’ve got a ’68 Pontiac, so I’m definitely a gas person. 

John Koetsier: Oooh, nice, nice. Mac or Windows?

Zach LaVine: Now this one, that’s different because I have a Windows PC, so I guess I’ll have to go with that. That’s part of my gaming setup. 

John Koetsier: That’s your gaming. Got it, totally get it. This one’s a tough one, it’s super political, GIF or JIF? As in an animated GIF or an animated JIF. What do you say? 

Zach LaVine: I call it a GIF.

John Koetsier: Oh, right answer! Awesome. 

Zach LaVine: Okay.

John Koetsier: And I think you already answered this one. A favorite tech news source? You said TechCrunch. Cool, no worries. I write for Forbes, but hey, it’s all good, I get it. No worries. Self-driving car or do you want to drive yourself for forever?

Zach LaVine: How about I make one up and say, I’d like to be driven. I’d like to be in the back seat. 

John Koetsier: There you go. Awesome, okay. Elon Musk offers you a trip to Mars, free trip to Mars… in or out?

Zach LaVine: I’ll stay here where I know what’s going on. 

John Koetsier: Oh man. I’m going, I’m off. 

Zach LaVine: Going to Mars?

John Koetsier: I’m going to Mars, absolutely. If I get the chance I’m going, sorry. Sorry, honey… 

Zach LaVine: …I gotta go.

John Koetsier: Alexa, or Hey Google, or Hey Siri? 

Zach LaVine: The only one I have encountered with is Hey Siri, I’m going with that one. 

John Koetsier: Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha. And the bonus question, over-ear or on-ear headphones? 

Zach LaVine: Over the ear. 

John Koetsier: Ah, great answer, otherwise it hurts your ear. I totally agree.

Zach LaVine: Yup, over-ear.

John Koetsier: Zach, it’s been a real pleasure. Thank you for taking some time. We didn’t get to see your dog, got to see the dog, where’s the dog? Is a dog there? 

Zach LaVine: Yeah, once you guys said you didn’t want barking or even… I told my fiancee to put him inside.

John Koetsier: Oh no worries. I said actually the dog’s fine, but it’s all good. 

Zach LaVine: He has an Instagram page, go check him out. 

John Koetsier: Awesome, awesome. Thank you for your time. Have a great day, appreciate it. 

Zach LaVine: Thank you guys. 

John Koetsier: For everybody else, thank you for joining. Real pleasure to have you today on TechFirst with John Koetsier, and have a wonderful day.