Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma Explores Love of Wine at Australian Vineyard
MELBOURNE -- An ankle injury kept Kyle Kuzma from joining USA Basketball in its ultimately unsuccessful quest for gold at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, but it didn’t stop the Los Angeles Lakers forward from taking in Australia’s splendor while he was there with Team USA.
In late August—before Gregg Popovich’s squad moved from Melbourne, where it played a pair of exhibition games against the host country at Marvel Stadium, to Sydney, where the Americans played one final warmup against Canada at Qudos Bank Arena—Kuz embarked on his first-ever helicopter ride to Australia's wine country. CloseUp360 helped to organize the special experience for him and his manager, Vin Sparacio, which included a 20-minute flight chartered by Microflite Helicopter Services from downtown Melbourne to the Yarra Valley, where the 24-year-old enjoyed wine tasting and lunch at the Levantine Hill vineyard.
Kyle and Vin were accompanied by four locals in charge of managing distribution of Mitchell & Ness gear in Australia. It was only fitting, then, that they gave Kuz some limited-edition Lakers gear at the end of the excursion.
In between sips of cabernets (his favorite varietal) and delicately prepared bites, Kyle spoke about his growing passion for wine, what sets Australian distillations apart from the rest and his overall experience Down Under.
(The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Kyle Kuzma is a fan of cabernets. "It's probably one of the majority things that I really drink," he tells CloseUp360. (Amir Ebrahimi)
CloseUp360: Tell me about what today has been like for you, indulging in your passion for wine in Australia.
Kyle Kuzma: This has been a great day, a very eventful day, going to the great Australian vineyards. This is my first time really experiencing Australian wine and sitting with the guys and really just talking about life, talking about business, talking about everything. It's been a great day.
CU360: What was your experience like getting over here in a helicopter?
KK: The helicopter was amazing. This was my first time ever being on a helicopter and going from the city out to the vineyards, and this area has been phenomenal. It's definitely a different type of view than a plane and whatnot. You really get to appreciate the landscape of different areas.
CU360: What stands out to you about Australian wine?
KK: I think the biggest thing that stuck out to me with Australian wines was the smell. I think it was a lot different, probably because of how it's harvested, how it's nurtured through its process. But I think that was definitely the biggest thing.
CU360: I know cabernets are big for you. Tell me about the cab.
KK: Yeah, cabs are big for me. You know, for me, I love cabs. It's probably one of the majority things that I really drink. But we had a lot of different great wines that I've never really ventured into. Rosés have been great. The Australian chardonnays have been nothing short of spectacular. It's been a great day of tastings.
CU360: What kinds of blends do you like when you're tasting?
KK: I think the biggest thing that I'm looking for is, obviously, the boldness. I like the boldness, the tannic-type feelings. I look at the colors a little bit. The great sweet pinots that we had today, they're definitely a little bit more tastier than a lot of different wines that I'm used to.
To Kyle, Australian wine has a distinct smell, "probably because of how it's harvested, how it's nurtured through its process," he says. (Amir Ebrahimi)
CU360: How did you first get into wine?
KK: You know, it's funny that we're in Australia right now. I think the No. 1 reason why I got into wine was Andrew Bogut, fellow Australian. One of our first trips when I was a rookie with the Lakers, and he was with us, he had me taste some Caymus wine. And ever since then, I've really been on wine.
CU360: Have you talked to Andrew at all since you've been out here?
KK: Briefly, briefly. We played the Australian national team yesterday and I dapped him up real quick. You could tell he didn't want to talk to me too much because we were enemies at the point. But Bogut, he's a great guy. He's one of my original vets, so it's always great to talk to him.
CU360: You went to college in Utah and now live in LA, both scenic cities in different ways. So when you come out to this countryside, do you feel like you're home a little bit out here?
KK: I think that this is a totally different environment from Michigan, Utah, even LA. It's super country from the standpoint of all the mountains and the green areas. Being in LA, it's super beachy or it's super city-like. So being out here, it's super refreshing.
CU360: When you wanted to be with Team USA and made this trip to Australia, was a big part of it about being open to exploring the local culture and doing things like today?
KK: I think the biggest thing about Team USA and deciding to play, obviously, was to get better as a basketball player and as a person. But I think the coolest thing was the traveling aspect. For me, I'd never been to Australia. Obviously, I've been to China a couple times. But for me, I think the wealthiest thing in life that you can have is to experience different cultures. And I think being out here in Melbourne and going to Sydney soon, I think that's mission accomplished.
Kyle was in Melbourne primarily to compete for a spot on Team USA's 12-man roster for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China. (Amir Ebrahimi)
CU360: Being in Australia for the last couple days, what have you gravitated to—the fans, the people here, the culture? What have you really fallen in love with about the country?
KK: I didn't know the basketball community was so crazy out here. I think that going to the game, obviously having 50,000-plus fans, that kind of tells you how important basketball is here. And then also, just the cultural [aspect]. Melbourne has been a super liberal place, a place where coffee is big time. I love coffee. I love coffee more now since being here. It's a little bit different taste—for me, at least. But it's always fun seeing different cultures and really just embracing it.
CU360: I know you're a big fashion guy. What do you think about the lifestyle streetwear side of Australia?
KK: I think the lifestyle streetwear is kind of comparable to like LA. There's a lot of guys, a lot of people walking down the streets of Collins Street, seeing guys dressed kind of the way I do. There's a lot of great little vintage shops here, a lot of great streetwear stores. So it's super cool to see fashion everywhere is alike, but also different.
Kyle took his first-ever helicopter ride to the Levantine Hill vineyard in Australia's Yarra Valley. (Amir Ebrahimi)
CU360: Overall, what's going to be the biggest thing on your mind about your time in Australia after you leave?
KK: I think the biggest thing on my mind is obviously the coffee. I think that's the biggest thing. I've had coffee every single night since I've been here, every morning, kind of got me through my jet lag and whatnot. But definitely the coffee. It's been phenomenal.
On-site reporting by CloseUp360 Founder and President Jared Zwerling.
Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.