On Jan. 13, the Miami Heat sported a record of 11-30 and appeared headed for a major teardown and rebuild after losing Chris Bosh to a medical condition and Dwyane Wade to Chicago in free agency. Then, something weird happened: the Heat started winning. They went on a 12-game win streak, and since that day in late January, they boast a shiny record of 21-5, which thrust the new-look Heat into the thick of the playoff race in the East.
A major part of the Heat's recent success has come on the back of James Johnson, who signed with the team as a free agent over the summer after spending the past two seasons playing sparingly for Toronto. Johnson arrived in Miami vastly out of shape. According to the Palm Beach Post, his 6-foot-9 frame was lugging around 275 pounds and 14.5 percent body fat. Perhaps not coincidentally, Johnson had yet to average 10 points per game at any time in his six-year career and had already bounced around among four teams since he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 2009.
Johnson is now thriving in Miami, averaging 12.1 points, 5 rebounds and over a block per game coming off the bench. He's also completely revamped his body, dropping down to 238 pounds and just 6.75 percent body fat, according to the Post. As it turns out, Johnson isn't the first free agent to have had his body molded by the Heat training staff. The Heat have been known to ask incoming players to pose for a "before" photo when they first arrive in South Beach, so they can look back on how much their bodies change for the better during their time with the Heat.
"I never had done a before-and-after," Johnson told the Post. "We got in there and they told me I had to take off my shirt. We had to take a before picture. It was weird to me. It was really weird to me. I thought I was going to be the only one because I came in something huge. I thought they were going to show me progress or what I don't want to get back to."
But Johnson is not the only player the Heat have asked to do this. It didn't take him long to realize that.
"I ran through their iPad magazine," Johnson said. "It was like a magazine, their iPad, their own accomplishments with other players and I saw it with my own eyes. And from the point I saw that iPad, I wanted to change myself."
It's become something of a recruiting tool for the Heat, both to entice players to join their team and to turn them into better players once they arrive. Johnson was particularly struck by the photos of Joe Johnson, who spent only three months in Miami after arriving there at the trade deadline last season and still totally transformed his physique.
The Heat's training staff, led by strength and conditioning coach Bill Foran, has always been world renowned. Foran, who has been with the team since its inception in 1988, says every detail counts when it comes to player fitness.
"We are sticklers on being conditioned, being at the right weight and the right body fat, and then we want them strong and powerful," Foran told STACK.
Foran gives credit to team president Pat Riley, whose belief in training and its benefits gave Foran the support he needs to create the culture that now exists both in the weight room and on the court.
"I think we have a work culture with the Miami Heat," Foran told STACK. "It was all based on Pat Riley. He understands the importance of strength and conditioning, and so strength and conditioning always had a high priority with his teams. When the former head coach who is now the president of the organization sees the importance of it, it's easier for me to get guys to train and want to train, and they see the success of training."
Foran and his training staff may not be the sole reason players choose to play in South Beach, but they certainly are beginning to play a major part.
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