The "Manimal" strips his fur
This is an extended interview from the 2013 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Subscribe to The Mag today!
Why did you decide to pose?
KF: I'm comfortable in my own skin, and I love my body. I feel that this is the year for people to feel free to express themselves. This is the year Jason Collins came out and said 'I'm an NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.' I'm the first NBA player member to join Athlete Ally, so I wanted to show I'm happy with who I am and support people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, transsexual and so on.
How did you get the nickname "Manimal?"
KF: A guy at my agency said people were calling saying, "Kenneth Faried is a man. He's a beast. He's an animal." So he said, "We're going to call you Manimal." At first I was like "No, that's kind of weird." But then 10 minutes later: "Manimal! Rrrrr!"
How did your mother and father toughen you up?
KF: The first time I ever got dunked on in my life was by my father. I was in seventh grade. He said, "You want to play this game?" "Yes." And he grabbed the ball and dunked on me. "If you want to play this sport, don't ever in your life let this happen to you again."
When I was younger, I wanted to shoot instead of rebounding because nobody wants to do the little things, but my parents told me, "If you want to shoot the ball, go get it and rebound it." "If you want to shoot in the park with the big kids, rebound the ball." I took that advice and ran with it. From that point on, it was always about rebounding and blocks for me.
What did you learn from your mother about toughness?
KF: My mother battled lupus my whole life -- and still is. She keeps fighting and fighting just to stay alive. So no matter my obstacles, no matter who it is or what it is, I know I can fight through it and overcome it.
What do you like about your body?
KF: My abs. Weirdly enough, I was a skinny kid, but I've always had abs. But I've toned them a lot as I've developed my body. My favorite exercise: I balance on a big rubber ball, and a partner throws me a medicine ball. I catch it from each side -- right, left, middle, and at the top of my head. You have to focus on balance and control. It works your brain and muscles at the same time.
If you could change something about your body, what would it be?
KF: I want my thighs to be a little thicker so I can move people instead of just having to jump over them all the time. It'd be better if I could just hit them and move them out of the way with my hips. I want a little bit more meat; I need a butt back there.
What is your favorite thing to do to train?
KF: In the NBA, we get strapped to this board at the waist, ankles and wrists, and they throw the ball at the backboard, and you've got to rebound it. It's a platform and they strap you in with these elastic bands and the resistance is pulling your body down, and you've got to try to jump and grab the rebound. When I was younger, it was hard. I didn't know what the heck I was doing.
What is your biggest body challenge?
KF: Keeping myself at a good weight. I eat six or seven meals a day, and I could eat right now, then go work out and be hungry right after. I've always had problems keeping weight on; it's God's gift, I guess, because it's certainly not a curse. I'd rather lose easily than gain easily. So I eat all the time. I only eat beef once a month, and I don't eat pork, so I eat a lot of chicken and turkey. I just indulge. It's nothing like I must have this or that, I just eat and I eat well."
Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?
KF: When I was younger, I was built like a coat hanger -- all you could see was my collarbone; I had no chest. I needed to fill out and wanted to bulk up. I thought I was strong, but I was a toothpick. In 10th grade, people started giving me more respect because I got taller. It wasn't until the basketball season, when I was rebounding and blocking shots, that I came into my own. I was about 6-foot-2, and I grew two inches every spring. As my mom would say, when the flowers were growing, I was growing.
What is a mental weakness you fight against?
KF: The thought that I'm too short. I'm a 6-foot-8 power forward in the NBA; nowadays, most guys in my position are 6-foot-10 or taller. And I went to a small school. People would say, "He didn't play at the high level with Florida or Kentucky or Louisville" and think I couldn't do this. But I brushed it aside and kept moving. I believe I can compete with anybody. I look at Dennis Rodman -- he was short, but he was the best rebounder. He didn't back down from anybody. Charles Barkley was one of the best rebounders. He'd dunk on you, shoot it, stretch the floor, dribble it, do everything the guards could do. I look at them as role models: They were short, but they became legendary Hall of Famers. Stay fearless, stay comfortable in your own skin and stay focused on what you want to do in life.
What's the worst thing your body has been through?
KF: My asthma is the worst thing I go through. And when my allergies act up, I can be out of commission for a while. Once when I was younger, I was playing ball and my asthma sprang up. I was wheezing and didn't have my inhaler, and I had to be rushed to the hospital. It's not that big of a problem anymore, but I still have bad allergies that trigger my asthma, especially when I'm on the East Coast. It's not so bad on the West Coast, but I kind of die out East with all the pollen.
What's the worst thing you've been through mentally?
KF: Not knowing if my mom was going to make it. She was flatlining, and they brought her back to life; that was the scariest thing ever. Also, not knowing if she was going to get a kidney. She waited seven years for a transplant. She said, "Without this kidney transplant, I'm going to leave this world soon." That same year, I said, OK, I'm going to the NBA. I was looking to declare early so I could use the money to buy her a kidney. Then the doctor called, and it was a such a relief. That was the scariest thing -- as a man and as a son -- that I've had to withstand.
What do you think of when you feel like you can't train any further?
KF: I think about my daughter and mother. What if my mother said, "Oh, I can't keep fighting like this. I'm going to give up." That, and I don't want my daughter to ever say, "My father gave up on life and what he dreamed of doing."