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The 'smart athletes' will go vegan, says 4-time NBA champion John Salley

Daniel Roberts

Beyond Meat reports its quarterly earnings for the first time as a public company on Thursday, and one unlikely name who will be watching the results closely is four-time NBA champion John Salley.

Salley, who played 12 seasons in the NBA, was one of Beyond Meat’s earliest investors. He says he didn’t cash out any of his shares at the IPO.

Now Salley, a proud vegan who is also invested in multiple cannabis businesses, has been preaching the plant-based lifestyle to today’s pro athletes.

“I think the smart athlete realizes that his body is the commodity,” Salley says. “The one who sits around and feels, ‘I can perform at this high level, and then I’m going to go to a steakhouse and sit next to somebody who was in the stands, and eat the same food and be able to perform,’ you can’t do that.”

Salley’s favored analogy is to compare a pro athlete’s body to a race car.

“You’re never going to see an IndyCar on the street, because an IndyCar is a high octane machine,” he says. “You’re not going to put leaded gas in that car. You’re not going to let somebody get in and eat fries and a bad burger in that car. So when athletes start realizing that they should treat their body like high-octane race cars, they will then do that. And there will be less injuries, and they’ll be able to last longer.”

Beyond Meat (BYND) shares have surpassed expectations since the company’s IPO on May 1. The stock is trading close to $100, around four times its IPO price of $25. Fast-food restaurants including TGI Fridays and Tim Hortons are working with Beyond Meat on new plant-based protein menu offerings.

Of course, there is healthy skepticism about the company’s future growth potential. Beyond Meat had just $88 million in revenue in 2018 and isn’t profitable, but the stock is trading at 60 times revenue. That has brought short-sellers out, but so far, shorting $BYND has not gone well.

Ethan Brown, left, CEO of Beyond Meat, attends the Opening Bell ceremony with former NBA basketball player John Salley to celebrate the company's IPO at Nasdaq, Thursday, May 2, 2019 in New York. California-based Beyond Meat makes burgers and sausages out of pea protein and other ingredients. Salley is a professed vegan. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan).

Salley got connected to Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown early on by a mutual friend who knew Salley was a vegan and already a fan of the product. He has remained close to the company, and says he will appear at an event in Washington, D.C., soon to promote Beyond Meat’s new sausage.

Salley says he’s on a mission to promote a plant-based diet. “I want to let everyone know you don’t have to be a wimp [to go plant-based] or have a bad attitude about it, and it tastes as good as the stuff that they told you was good for you. Now you have something that is a good product and the same taste, but no animals have to die. I’m an advocate for life.”

When asked about the many competitors in the exploding plant-based food space, including Impossible Foods and Tyson, Salley jokes, “Who? Who is there, other than Beyond Meat?”

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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