The break-up of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal wasn't the only headline in the summer of 2004. In Shaq's introductory press conference for the Miami Heat, he looked lean — way different from his hefty build in Los Angeles. As always, there were various hypotheses on why Shaq decided to slim down. His 340+ pound frame (at one point, he was almost 400 lbs.) seemed to do its magic and even resulted in three titles. In his book entitled "Shaq Uncut: My Story," the Diesel detailed the real reason for his new look in Miami: Pat Riley's demands.
Pat Riley's body fat rule
According to Shaq, Heat president Pat Riley had a strict body fat rule for his players, something which applies to this day. And everyone had to adhere to it. It does not matter if you are the franchise guy or a role player.
"Everything was looking great, except one thing: I didn’t have time to do anything but work out all day long because Pat was all hung up on this body fat program. He was very serious about it. He expected all the guards to have 6 percent body fat, the forwards to have 7 to 8 percent body fat, and the centers to have 10 percent body fat," Shaq wrote.
Riley's rules made sense. He is handling elite athletes, after all, and they need to be in tiptop shape to be at their best. If you have a boss with stature and a resume like Riley, it would be best to follow his orders. However, Shaq came to Miami with three titles in his belt. He knew how to get the job done. He knew for a fact that cutting his weight won't necessarily result in another NBA Championship.
"It made no sense to me. I had been taking care of my body for twelve NBA seasons and we had won three championships, and I had never seen anyone from the Miami Heat even come close to winning anything. They may have been in the best shape, but I never saw any of them around when we were passing out rings"
Shaq justified that his body needed extra "cushion" because he takes a massive beating every night. To recall, during the Lakers' dynasty, Shaq was getting triple or quadruple-teamed almost every possession. Opposing teams had to shuffle their big men quickly so as not to accumulate fouls. As a result, there was always a fresh body ready to pound Shaq as hard as they could. However, O'Neal had no choice. Riley is his boss, and you don't mess with a guy like him.
Come training camp, Shaq's body fat was still at 13 percent. He agreed with Riley that since he is bigger than all NBA centers, 13 percent is acceptable — at least for the meantime. Riley remained firm in his rule, “If you don’t make the body fat percentage, you will be fined $1,000. The next time you are fined again, and the third time you are suspended a game.”
O'Neal tried his best to trim his body fat down to 10 percent. Shaq knew he would need to stay in the gym for longer hours to succeed. Being a business magnate, Shaq decided to call some of his associates to open up 24-hour fitness clubs in Miami. The LSU product admitted that he was his own best customer.
"Clearly I wasn’t going to be able to follow my regular routine and meet Pat’s requirements. One of the first things I did was call up my business partners who helped me run these twenty-four-hour fitness clubs that I owned. I told them, “Hey, I’ve got to work out every night—we need a couple of gyms down here.” So we opened up five of them in the Miami area right away."
Shaq's body fat remained at 13 percent. He did not detail if Riley imposed a fine on him or if he ever made the cut. Whatever the case may be, Riley's tactics worked. Though Shaq suffered various injuries during his stint with the Heat (he blamed his lower fat percentage), he did claim his fourth title ring. And at the end of it all, winning is all that matters in this sport.