Add No. 1 Pick Cade Cunningham to the Growing List of Superstar Athletes Who Are Proudly Vegan

Cunningham opened up about his dietary methods in his first interview as a Detroit Piston last night

cade cunningham vegan
Cunningham reportedly went vegan after a week of eating McDonald's burgers in Greece.
Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

For the first time in NBA history, the first overall pick is a vegan. Cade Cunningham, the 6′ 8″ and 220-pound point guard out of Oklahoma State — who has drawn comparisons to both Magic Johnson and Luka Dončić — doesn’t consume any animal products. He’s not shy about it, either.

Not long after donning a Detroit Pistons cap and dapping up Commissioner Adam Silver, Cunningham sat down with the ESPN broadcast crew for a customary interview. At one point, Kendrick Perkins asked him about his dietary choices: “I wanted to know, what made you go vegan? As a youngster, as far as your nutrition and taking care of your body, I think that was a very mature thing.”

Cunningham replied: “I think, bigger than anything, I just wanted to try something new for my body and see how my body reacted to it. So, once I tried it, I did it for two weeks … [when] Team USA had to go out to Greece, we’re eating McDonald’s and stuff … we weren’t accustomed to the food that we had out there. 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.”

The trip to Greece that Cunningham’s alluding to was the 2019 FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Heraklon (where he scored 21 points in the finals, leading Team USA to gold), which means he’s been off the meat for over two years now.

Before you start emptying out your meat freezer, remember that every body is different, and there is no “one size fits all” superdiet. For example, veganism may not be the best fit for people with irritable bowel syndrome, allergies (especially of the soy, wheat or nut varieties) or deficiencies in B12 or zinc. That said, the plant-based movement has won many supporters in professional sports in recent years: stars like Novak Djokovic, Cam Newton, Lewis Hamilton and Alex Morgan all credit the practice with helping them keep their waistlines trim, boost performance, sharpen day-to-day focus and improve sleep.

Cunningham also joins the ranks of some high-profile plant-based peers in the NBA. Chris Paul, Deandre Jordan, Damian Lillard and Javale Magee have all helped pioneer the league’s “latest competitive advantage,” and the biggest and possibly most-outspoken supporter of the lifestyle is Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving, another first overall pick, in 2011. Irving didn’t officially give up animal products until 2017, though, during his tenure with the Boston Celtics.

We’ll have to wait and see if Cunningham’s diet helps or hinders his development in the NBA, but considering his energetic style of play and years of vegan experience, he seems to know what he’s doing.

Beyond helping his body, the choice should also help his business aspirations. Cunningham has openly aspired to be “the next LeBron” (the Los Angeles Lakers small forward just became the NBA’s first active player with a net worth of $1 billion), and carving a day-one niche as the league’s resident plant-powered superstar, just as plant-based is taking over consumer markets, could mean a major windfall down the road.

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