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Weight Watcher

The skinny on 7'6" Shawn Bradley: feeding furiously in Philly to fatten up

How would you like to eat anything you want and never gain weight'?!? No pills! No gimmicks! No embarrassing meetings! In fact, how would you like to eat 7,000 calories a day and not gain an ounce?!?

This is the famous Shawn Bradley Diet you've heard so much about. Imagine! Since July, Mr. Bradley has been putting away mountainous breakfasts, gluttonous lunches, waiter-herniating dinners! And he hasn't gained a gram! He has consumed vats of chocolate shakes, dockloads of fruit, small farms of meat! And he still is thinner than turpentine! He began the program at 245 pounds, and he now weighs...245 pounds, well below the average for those Americans in the all-important 7'-7'6" category.

Not that the bishop's wife is all that thrilled about this diet. It is not easy, you know, having Bradley, the biggest gamble in pro basketball history, sitting at your kitchen table every morning. Two forty-five? Do you have any idea what Patrick Ewing will do to him? He'll shove him halfway to Passaic is what he'll do to him. Robert Parish will turn him into 90 inches of lumps. Shaq will mistake him for a breadstick.

When the Philadelphia 76ers took a chance on Bradley, a former Brigham Young center, by selecting him with the No. 2 pick in the 1993 NBA draft and signing him to an eight-year, $44 million contract, there was one big question: Can he play in the NBA? Bradley had played only one year of college ball, at 205 pounds, before spending two years performing Mormon missionary work in Australia. He did not so much as work out Down Under. When Bradley reported to the Sixers on July 12, he was still as skinny as a hat rack. "Well," said Philadelphia's new coach, Fred Carter, "he's got to get bigger and stronger."

This is where the bishop's wife comes in. When she first saw Bradley at her church, she must have known immediately what Carter meant. Here was this 21-year-old farm kid—the Human Rail from Castle Dale (Utah), where the nearest neighbor is a mile away—plunked down in the middle of Philadelphia. He was living in a hotel, knew almost nobody and looked lonelier than one sock. So the bishop's wife and her husband invited him to live with them and their five little girls (all under 12) and their one on the way (it had better be a boy) and their assorted stuffed animals and jelly stains.

Tammy Engerbretsen and her husband, Jim, a Philadelphia stockbroker who is serving a five-year turn as a Mormon bishop, had taken in all kinds before—unwed mothers, sick people, folks down on their luck—but they had never taken in a lonesome skyscraper with freckles. The girls call him Uncle Shawn and beg him to hold them up to the ceiling. This is known to them as flying.

"Have you ever seen a real giraffe?" a preschool teacher asked four-year-old Amanda one day.

"No," said Amanda. "But we've got Shawn."

Uncle Shawn sleeps in a guest room with lace curtains. After he spent weeks crashing on two beds placed perpendicularly, the Engerbretsens had a bed made specially for him. The difficult part is getting a blanket that can cover all of him. The only saving grace is that Bradley is so tall that when his feet get cold, it is 15 minutes before he realizes it.

The bishop's wife took to lying awake nights, worrying. "I was overwhelmed," she says. "I just lay there thinking, What am I going to feed this guy?"

The answer she decided upon was, most everything. She put in front of him butter-drowned baked potatoes and Jurassic-sized T-bones. She brought him fist-thick cheeseburgers and ridiculously chubby fries. She served him double-chocolate cakes and triple-decker Dagwoods. She made sure his lap never lacked a plate. She brought him enough calories to send Jenny Craig into shock. Yet all those calories seemed to fall off his jangling bones. "If you see the coach," she says of Carter, "tell him I'm trying."

Ingesting 7,000 calories a day is a difficult chore for some glee clubs, much less one man. Worse, what the bishop's wife didn't know was that "Shawn is not a big eater," according to his mother, Teresa. Nonetheless, every day Bradley would get up, try to down the huge stack of pancakes, the eggs, the cereal, the milk and the juice Tammy put out for him, not to mention the calorie-dense power milk shake, which takes up an entire blender and must be guzzled twice a day. Then he would go to his four-hour workout, throw up in the middle of it, come home, throw up again and try to get more food down before going to sleep.

"He was a puking machine," says the 76ers' fitness guru, Pat Croce, the construction foreman on the Bradley project. Part of the problem was that when Bradley came to the Sixers, he was in the physical condition of Garfield the Cat. His resting pulse was 80 beats per minute (Croce's is 44), and he could do bench-press sets at only 90 pounds (NFL linemen do reps with 300 pounds) or complete only 10 squat reps with 125 pounds.

"Look at this," a man in an orange tank top and Rec-Specs said one August day at the Philadelphia Sporting Club, where Bradley was playing in several pickup games. "They paid way too much for this stiff."

Indeed, things did not look promising. Bradley was being shoved around and then some by this collection of CBA roster fillers and free agents. Come training camp, which starts next month, he will have the honor of being bruised by the future Hall of Famer and newly signed Sixer, Moses Malone. For now, though, even these guys were mauling him. "True," said center Eric Leckner. "But in two years he's gonna be a bitch."

"This kid is like a 401(K)," says 76er trainer Mike Abdenour. "It may not look like much now, but it's going to pay off big-time."

Even Bradley admits, "This year, I'm not going to be anything like what I'll be next year. My goal is just to get better throughout the year. I basically would just like to survive the year. I know there will be some people who will think I'm wonderful and some people who will think I'm the biggest idiot in the world. In fact, there are some people who already think I'm the biggest idiot in the world."

Actually, that's not true. Even the Philly media like Bradley. "And I heard they don't even like Santa Claus," says Teresa. Bradley has a likable way about him, like a giant Opie Taylor, and you can't help but feel a little sorry for him. He is trying to go from being a bicycling door-knocker in Sydney to being a lane-clogging NBA shot blocker in Philadelphia—all inside three months.

He may groan at sitting down six times a day to cat (Croce found that he eats more that way), at watching plate after bowl after dish being shoved in front of his face, but he hasn't tried to bite anybody's hand. While there must be times when Bradley would like to scream at the sight of another pitcherful of 1,000-calorie milk shake—"Eating has kind of become a pain," he says—he hasn't. Even when Croce rides him like a rented mule in those punishing workouts—"C'mon, get with it! No whining! One more! Shaq's not doing this!"—Bradley has yet to offer to snap his head off.

And though the "bigger" has not come, the "stronger" has. So far Bradley has added an inch and a half to his chest and has taken an inch off his waist. His body fat has gone from 13% to 10%. He is finally doing 20 bench-press reps at 140 pounds and 40 squats with 280 pounds. His resting pulse is 60. "He's even starting to strut in the mirror now," says Croce, beaming.

"He's discovered bagels," says Tammy, and, no doubt, Philadelphia cream cheese to go with them. "And he loves Philly cheese steaks." It is only a matter of time before Bradley discovers the ultimate Philly calorie source: Tastykakes.

If your imagination goes that deep, you can finally see what Leckner is talking about. If Bradley can get to 275 and start swinging those eye-high elbows, checking him will be like trying to guard a windmill. As Bill Walton says of Bradley, "He is not a tall guy who happens to play basketball. He is a basketball player who happens to be tall."

He is not a tall man who wishes he were short, either. "Look at the way he stands," says Croce. "He's got perfect posture. Most really, really tall guys like that slump their shoulders, like they're embarrassed to be so tall. Not Shawn. His shoulders are back, and he walks tall." In fact, Bradley is so proud that when he signs an autograph, he writes "7'6"" under his name.

The Sixers haven't had a dominant center since Malone in 1985-86, but Bradley could be the guy. He is no carnival show. He is no Manute Bol. He's athletic. He lettered in golf in high school. He begs Croce to take him waterskiing. He has a graceful stride and a lovely jump shot, and he is working hard on a skyhook. Indeed, he is watching old tapes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whom the 76ers may import to cultivate Bradley's version of the shot.

Bradley even has a little junkyard dog inside him. One day, after being taken to the edge by the unrelenting Croce, he nearly killed the trainer in a game of medicine-ball burnout. "He's never going to be Karl Malone," says Croce, who used to be the guy who intercepted the pizza man before he got to Charles Barkley's house. "But he can have a thin, muscular body, kind of like Kareem's." In fact, Abdul-Jabbar entered his rookie year with the Milwaukee Bucks at 225 pounds.

Besides, who can gain weight when your heart is so light? Bradley has fallen in love with a Salt Lake City woman named Annette Evertsen, who came to Philadelphia on a lark five years ago and took a nanny job with a friend of the Engerbretsens'. Bradley and Evertsen are engaged and plan to be married at the end of this month. She is smart, cute and funny, and best of all she knows about as much about basketball as Miss Gdansk.

"Are you going to practice with the 56ers?" she asked one day.

The whole Engerbretsen house went still.

"Uh, I mean the 96ers?"

Muffled guffaws.

"The 86ers?"

Uncontrollable laughter.

"Seventy-sixers!" she said at last.

Obviously, this is not a woman who will repeatedly ask you why you let Hakeem Olajuwon control the glass all night.

Someday, Bradley will be a filled-out man with his own filled-out bed and his own filled-out house and his own filled-out dreams. But he will never forget his string-bean days, his green days, when he came home to still one more dread milk shake, a houseful of smiles and five little girls, who would all come racing out of the house, squealing, "Uncle Shawn, make me fly!"





Bradley leaves hang time to the little guys, like 6'11" assistant Jeff Ruland.



She may not know from the 76ers, but Evertsen is a big fan of Bradley's.