The current trend of "going small" in the NBA doesn't just refer to guard-heavy lineups without a traditional big centre in the middle. In recent years, there has also been a noticeable shift towards lean and mean. Led by the late career regiment of Kobe Bryant, players have been eschewing bulk and brawn in favour of slimming down for trim builds that enable more agility. Where building muscle was once king, guys like LeBron James, Kyle Lowry and DeMarcus Cousins are going into the gym to cut weight.
Now, that's not to say that the whole league has gotten in on the trend. Bulking up is a time-held tradition in the NBA that has enabled a countless number of scrawny college prospects to blossom into physically imposing NBA stars. For as long as there are battles in the paint and fights for rebounds, size - in every form - will continue to be a coveted commodity. Being light on your feet is great for some, but let's face it - most NBA forwards would rather mix it up with Channing Frye than Zaza Pachulia.
So in this slimmed down era of NBA basketball, let's all remember that big remains beautiful. So long as players are committed to conditioning, there will always be a place for a bruising, space-clearing big man up front or a bulky guard who can post up. In celebration of these hefty heroes, here is a list of the top 15 players who have gone against the grain by getting thicker - either in their arms, shoulders or in their middle - and loved it.
15 Eddy Curry
If the battle in the paint in basketball represents the combative pursuit of space and positioning, Eddy Curry had a meaty leg up on the competition. Despite being just 18 when he was drafted fourth overall out of high school by the Chicago Bulls, Curry already stood 6'11" and, more significantly, weighed 300 pounds. Believe it or not, that 300lb mark would only rise over the course of what was a largely disappointing career that spanned parts of 11 seasons.
How bad did it get for the one-time New York Knick? After showing little motivation to slim down amidst what were some pretty lucrative years in the league, Curry finally dedicated himself to getting in shape during a 2012 comeback attempt with the Miami Heat. Just to get back to his draft weight, the Illinois native had to shed about 100 pounds off of his bloated frame.
14 Vin Baker
The 1999 NBA lockout produced a number of victims, but perhaps no one was affected by the work stoppage as much as Vin Baker. The talented power forward had been named to the previous four All-Star games and had recently formed a two-headed franchise core in Seattle with Gary Payton when the league shut down. During that stoppage, however, the University of Hartford alum didn't handle his suddenly idle time well. The lockout sparked alcohol and weight-related struggles that Baker struggled to ever recover from.
As his weight rose, his scoring and rebounding numbers plummeted. Things got so bad that the troubled big man was ultimately suspended and cut from the Boston Celtics. Baker, who also blew through his career earnings, would probably do things differently if he had the chance, but he spent an awful lot of his career shrugging off some pretty obvious weight issues.
13 Antoine Walker
Some players just never quite get it. Take Antoine Walker, for example. "Employee No. 8" was a gifted scorer and three-time All-Star who believed he could simply get by on talent, alone. Perpetually earning the ire of his coaches for an ambivalent attitude towards conditioning and repeatedly showing up to training camp out of shape, the sixth overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft actually had the gall to question the conditioning policies of legendary coach Pat Riley while with the Miami Heat.
On the subject of his conditioning, Walker described his fitness as "great", adding, "I never missed a practice from day one. I was there every day." I know that they say 'showing up is half the job', but surely a little more could be expected out of someone who earned over $100 million during his playing career.
12 Shawn Kemp
Like Baker, Kemp let himself go during the 1999 lockout, returning to the Cavs far bigger than when he left. He got so fat between the beginning of the lockout and its conclusion nine months later that it spawned pregnancy jokes about the "Reign Man". In fact, then-GM Wayne Embry recounts that the club officially listed him at 280 upon his return, 34 pounds higher than he had been prior, and even still the number was 30 pounds shy of what he actually weighed.
11 Charles Barkley
Much like his broadcast partner Shaq, Charles Barkley isn't afraid of making his own body a punch line. After all, the famously outspoken Hall of Famer garnered the nickname of "Round Mound of Rebound" during his career. More recently, Sir Charles was part of an All-Star Weekend spectacle in which he defeated - barely - septugenarian NBA referee Dick Bavetta in a foot race, yet another tongue-in-cheek nod to his lack of physical conditioning.
While most of the players included on the list saw their weight rise some time during their pro career, Barkley didn't even
weight wait that long. In a 2015 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, he recounted a story in which he gained 20 pounds in just 48 hours prior to the 1984 NBA Draft to deter the Philadelphia 76ers from drafting him.
10 Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal has never been a small dude. The 1992 first overall pick was a hyper athletic man-child whose early dominance for the Orlando Magic would carry through most of his 19-year career. What didn't remain consistent, however, was his body. The Big Aristotle ballooned from a pre-draft weight of 294lbs all the way up as high as 370.
To his credit, Shaq's weight gain wasn't entirely careless. After winning his first NBA championship with the Lakers, O'Neal decided that he had to get bigger. But while a disciplined regiment followed him to the weight room, it didn't follow him to the kitchen table. He spent much of his career on a carb-heavy diet as a big consumer of burgers, bread and other less than ideal foods. Given his Hall of Fame career, he didn't exactly bear much motivation to change his habits.
9 Mitch Richmond
Richmond's only NBA title came in what was the very last season of his career - and with good reason. A 36-year-old by that time, the Kansas State alum signed a cheap, one-year deal with the Lakers soon after having the last two years and $10 million of his contract with the Washington Wizards bought out. For the loaded team he was joining, however, he was more of an insurance piece than a valued contributor, playing just the 10th-most minutes on the club and mostly watching Bryant command his shooting guard position. It's no wonder, then, that the typically fitness-oriented Richmond was content to let himself fatten up and fall out of shape as he essentially rode the bench to an NBA championship.
8 Magic Johnson
Much has been made of the weight gained by thriving entrepreneur Earvin "Magic" Johnson over the course of his post-playing days. In reality, though, the body transformation of the Hall of Fame point guard actually took place while he was still an active NBA player.
The 6'8" Johnson could never be considered small, particularly for his position, but he entered the league as a lanky prospect out of Michigan State. In 12 years, he made 11 All-Star teams while adding modest muscle-based weight. However, it was after a four-year hiatus from the league owing to being HIV positive that the three-time MVP really packed on the pounds. His remarkable 1996 return at age 36 came at a time when Johnson weighed in at 255 pounds, up 40 from his draft weight.
7 Derrick Coleman
In line with the likes of Curry, Baker and Walker, Derrick Coleman maximized his caloric intake while failing to do the same with the prodigious talent that helped make him the top pick of the 1990 NBA Draft. A Rookie of the Year-winning first season should have been the catalyst for greater things to follow, but wound up being the highlight of a career better defined by laziness, complacency and weight gain.
Once the NBA's highest paid player, Coleman didn't appear to strive for much more than that. He gained a reputation around the league for being all but allergic to practice and coming into each season with some extra padding around his middle. Most famously, when asked about NBA colleague Kenny Anderson skipping practice, Coleman replied, "Whoop-dee-do. Everyone here misses practice. It's no big deal."
6 Jerome James
An NBA nickname can speak volumes of the player that it adorns. Michael "Air" Jordan had gravity-defying ability, Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson was known for his knack for getting hot in a hurry. That probably tells you all you need to know about Jerome "Big Snacks" James.
A sparsely recruited big man out of little-known Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, James forged a decent NBA career out of being really big. At seven feet tall and 300 pounds, the 1998 second round pick never averaged as many as six points per game but did prove challenging to clear out of the paint. After one outstanding postseason stretch for the Seattle Supersonics in the 2005 playoffs, James cashed in with a lucrative five-year, $30 million contract with the Knicks and proceeded to show up at training camp out of shape.
5 Yao Ming
Even with a daunting language barrier, Yao Ming was known in his playing days to throw out the odd one-liner to lighten up a media scrum. So it was no surprise, then, to hear him humorously demonstrate a bit of self awareness as an increasingly heavy-set former player who was now speaking out about preventing childhood obesity.
Indeed, it can't be easy remaining physically fit within a massive 7'6" frame. Yao actually did well for himself to remain disciplines for the most of what was only an eight-year NBA career. But as foot injuries and other issues related to his size began to flare up and compromise his mobility, it wasn't long before his weight started to spike. From a pre-draft weight of about 290, the former No. 1 overall pick was up as high as 320 at one point.
4 Tristan Thompson
The duo of Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian make for a cute celebrity couple, but they possess very different attitudes when it comes to weight gain. Reportedly tired of being known as the "fat sister" among her famous family, Kardashian shed a remarkable 40 pounds as part of a dramatic transformation and has supposedly been concerned about weight gain amidst her current pregnancy. Thompson, meanwhile, hasn't exactly shared those concerns.
The Canadian big man has been at his best as an active handful in the paint, getting on the glass as the resident dirty work practitioner for the star-laden and perimeter-oriented Cavs. Therefore, a few additional pounds tacked onto his 238lb frame isn't necessarily a bad thing. Unsurprisingly, especially as he's tacked on some "sympathy weight" over the course of his girlfriend's pregnancy.
3 Andrew Wiggins
No one ever doubted the scoring talents of Andrew Wiggins entering the league. The Kansas product was highly regarded for his exceptional athleticism and considerable scoring prowess. Instead, any criticism he faced centred on whether he had the physical edge, toughness and aggressive mean streak to be a superstar.
Mostly, changes for Wiggins have come in adding to his slender frame. He proudly spoke of the weight gain (all of five pounds, but still) that came about last summer as he signed a max deal in Minnesota and has reportedly been a gym rat in pursuit of added bulk. The 2015 Rookie of the Year has succeeded in posting flashy stats through four seasons in the league. When the 22-year-old experiences his first taste of the physical NBA playoff grind, that added muscle will certainly come in handy.
2 Kevin Garnett
Now, let's be clear - at no point in the 21-season career of KG could he really be considered a 'big' big man. In fact, it was his slender 6'11" frame that enabled him to draw the attention of draft scouts intrigued by a player with power forward size and the agility of a wing player. Still, as became clear during a rude NBA welcome, Garnett needed to add some meat to his bones. The 2004 MVP approached every facet of his career with a ferocious competitiveness, so so it's no surprise that his aggressive diet regiment and approach to physical training was no different. With many current players opting to slim down, young players like Ben Simmons and Thon Maker who are considered 'skinny' seem to be taking a page from the KG book.
1 LeBron James
Yes, I realize I earlier counted the King as one of the foremost members of a new trend of slimming down among NBA stars. But a big part of the mystique of the impossibly versatile LeBron James comes from his stunning combination of guard-like skills and big man heft. Long before embarking on a dramatic, career-extending dietary transformation driven by summers spent cutting out carbs, sugar and dairy, the four-time MVP came out of high school already armed with a 240lb, tank-like build and reportedly outweighed his 7'3" teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
But he wasn't done there. The face of Nike has managed to grow more cerebral while still maintaining - and even building on - his considerable physical edge. Recent seasons have seen him play each position on the floor at various junctures, proving just as challenging to handle in the post as he is tough to get in front of with the ball. Furthermore, James' work in the weight room and emphasis on diet over the years has helped prevent any serious injuries to date, despite having more than 1300 NBA games worth of wear on his body.
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