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Shawn Kemp gained 35lb during the '99 lockout: “Coach, I didn't think we were coming back.”


The '98/'99 lockout lasted from July 1, '98, to January 20, '99. The season was almost canceled after David Stern set a January 7th deadline - if there were no agreement by that day, he would cancel the season. It came as close as a deal sent to vote on January 6th. The players accepted, and we had a shortened 50 game season.

The season started on February 5th. Teams needed time to get all their players back together and get some practice time, and they got two weeks. This is, by the way, something to consider in the current situation. Whenever teams are allowed to get back together, they will need time to practice before any games are played. 

Those two weeks were not enough for Shawn Kemp to make up for lost time. Kemp arrived at Cleveland via trade in 97' and signed a 7-year 107 million extension. Being their highest-paid player, the fifth member of the 100 million club (after Juwan Howard, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning), the Cavs were very disappointed after Kemp stepped on a scale. The Cavs listed Kemp at 280 pounds, and he reported to the team at 315. Not all players worked out every day as Karl Malone did, but 35 pounds was a bit much. One thing Kemp had going for him was honesty. 

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“He was really very honest about it,” former Cavs coach Mike Fratello recalled. “I said, 'Shawn, how did this happen?' He said, 'Coach, I didn't think we were coming back.'”

Mike Fratello,

Some players put on weight easier than others and are not as disciplined. Taking that into consideration, the Cavs were mostly frustrated with Kemp's lack of discipline. The team had a Cleveland Clinic nutritionist develop a diet for Kemp, but he didn't follow it. They offered to hire a personal chef for him, he refused. Their 100 million dollar superstar just wasn't committed.

Kemp had a good statistical season, averaging 20.5 points and 9.2 rebounds, but everything that made him extraordinary wasn't there. Another factor that made things worse was the compacted schedule. To make up for lost time, the league squeezed in 50 games in a little time. Players were exhausted, there was very little time to recover, and it reflected on their dietary habits.

“I don't remember a season when more players ordered room service. Guys would usually go out, get a bite to eat or whatever on road trips. But we would be so tired after playing so many games guys were like 'You know what, I'm just eating in the room.'”

Johnny Newman,

With sports science on a different level nowadays, the chances of someone showing up entirely out of shape are very low. But this is a cautionary tale for everyone. There was no definite timeframe for the lockout, and after a while human nature creeps in. It's hard to keep working out, not knowing what you are working out for. The difference here being the players will hopefully be able to come to their practice facilities soon and workout with team staff and teammates.

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