The Parallels Between NBA Stars & Pro Bodybuilding Stars – Part 1


by Geoff Roberts

It is rare that I pay any significant amount of attention to any sport outside of bodybuilding. That said, I rarely missed a golf tournament when Tiger Woods was playing, and as a former basketball player, I have kept tabs on the NBA on and off for about two decades. One of the main reasons I gravitated towards bodybuilding and golf is my disinterest in team sports. I have always felt that following a team that is made up of ten to twenty different players, players that can and often do change year to year, as opposed to following individual athletes, was a bit silly. This is why I have never had a favorite NBA team, only favorite NBA players.

With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to match NBA players with professional bodybuilders throughout history, as individuals. This may sound ridiculous at first, but one would be surprised to learn how many similarities can be found between elite bodybuilders and elite basketball stars. The only constant I will use in this comparison is the timeline. In other words, I with not match up a basketball player from the 1970’s to a bodybuilder who is a rookie this year. The time in which each athlete was great will at least be somewhat close, and I will start the list with the older athletes, finishing with the current young guys. The comparisons will be based on personality, skill, longevity, attitude, popularity, or any other factor one could possibly think of.

Lee Haney – Michael Jordan


The main similarity here should be obvious. In the eyes of many, these two men are the very best to ever live in regards to their given sport. Lee Haney ruled over the bodybuilding world like a man amongst boys, much like Micheal Jordan did in his prime, and in my opinion, Lee Haney is the greatest bodybuilder to ever live. Michael Jordan made a successful comeback to the court in his late thirties as a Washington Wizard, which is no small feat. While Lee Haney never made a comeback after he retired, of all the Mr. Olympia champions, I feel that Lee Haney would have had the best chance of successfully returning to the stage had he chosen to. Haney retired in 1991 when he was only in his early thirties. There is no doubt in my mind that he could have come back in his mid to late thirties and done some serious damage at the 1996 or 1997 Mr. Olympia competitions.

Lee Labrada – John Stockton

lee labrada

These are two guys who nature never intended to be great at bodybuilding or basketball respectively. John was barely over six feet tall in a sport where the average height is closer to 6’8”. Lee Labrada was at a similar disadvantage, weighing a mere 185 pounds and competing onstage with several top guys who weighed in excess of 240 pounds. What made these guys capable of not only hanging with these monsters, but often besting them, was polish and fundamentals. These guys left no stone unturned, studied their craft ad infinitum, and took nothing for granted. Lee Labrada and John Stockton knew their sport better than their opponents and very rarely made mistakes.

Dorian Yates – Larry Bird

dorian yates
larry bird

Comparing Larry Legend with The Shadow mostly comes down to their sheer tenacity. Nobody worked as hard as Larry Bird on the basketball court, and nobody trained or dieted as hard as Dorian Yates in professional bodybuilding. Their similarities don’t end there. The other major thing these two had in common was their ability to make the most elite athletes in the world look like fools. Whether or not people want to believe it, Larry Bird embarrassed the great Michael Jordan on several occasions on the basketball court. The same can be said about Dorian and super elite bodybuilders like Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone. At times, Dorian was so good that even these legendary bodybuilders who were blessed with one in a million genetics, stood absolutely no chance of defeating him.

Ronnie Coleman – Kobe Bryant

kobe bryant

The Big Nasty and The Black Mamba. Ronnie and Kobe are both the greatest of all time at their sport in the eyes of some, but not all. They have also done things that just seem simply impossible. Whether it was Ronnie’s inhuman strength and the extreme level of size and condition he was able to steamroll the best bodybuilders in the world with, or Kobe’s 81 point game and ability to make deep three point shots out of double team coverage to win games night after night, these two were both beyond special. While both of these athletes raised their given sport to a new level, they also stayed in the game well past their prime years.

Shawn Ray – Isiah Thomas

shawn ray
isiah thomas

These guys were giant killers who knew how to get under their opponent’s skin. Both are considered one of the best to ever partake in their sport, despite an obvious height disadvantage. What makes these two even more similar is how polarizing they were. Isiah and Shawn were either loved or hated, with very little middle ground. Whether a person loved them or hated them, they knew that they could never be taken lightly (no pun intended) on the court or on the stage.

Flex Wheeler – Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson

Flex Wheeler is often considered the most gifted bodybuilder of all time. Flex was blessed with a structure and muscle shape that was truly second to none. Not only that, but his ability to transform his physique and or simply gain muscle mass is the stuff of legend. Flex Wheeler’s genetics were almost too good to be true. While “gifted” is not really a word that is frequently used to describe Magic Johnson, the fact that he was a 6’8” guard who was proficient at every single aspect of the game, also seemed too good to be true. Both of these iconic men have overcome serious health issues as well.

Paul Dillett – Yao Ming

paul dillett
yao ming

This comparison is one of letdown. While both of these athletes were absolutely phenomenal at their sport, they never really lived up to the hype. In both cases this hype came from otherworldly physical attributes. In that case of Paul, he was 280 pounds in contest condition, and displayed one of the greatest shoulder to waist ratios the sport has ever seen. Yao on the other hand, was 7’5” and weighed 320 pounds. Even in the NBA, this guy was a real life giant. Paul was never able to properly display his physique, while Yao was never able to fully use his massive size to dominate the NBA like many people thought he would.

Chris Cormier – Reggie Miller

reggie miller

There are four main aspects which connect these two guys. Their generally personality, their partying prowess, the continuation of their career once they were done competing, and where they rank amongst the greatest of all time in their sports. Chris and Reggie always seems to have a good time no matter what they were doing. They talked trash, but meant no harm, and they always seemed to sport a big smile. As we all know, Chris was known for partying hard whenever he got the chance. In that regard, Reggie Miller was the Chris Cormier of the NBA, as he too loved to party. After retirement, Reggie and Chris both found successful careers within the sports they once ruled. Chris trains younger athletes and has his own training camp, while Reggie has become a very successful basketball commentator. Last but not least, these guys both fit into a category of greatness that excludes them from discussions of who was the best of all time, but will always allow them to be included in discussions of hall of fame level competitors.

Dexter Jackson – Tim Duncan

tim duncan

This one can be summarized in one word: longevity. Dexter and Tim are both competing at a high level today, despite both of them being at the elite level for close to twenty years. In fact, Duncan and Jackson have nearly identical careers from a timeline perspective. Duncan turned professional two years before Dexter, and it is not out the question that Dexter retires exactly two years after Tim. How are these two able to garner such extreme longevity? This too comes down to a single word: consistency.