Heat Check

The before and after story of James Johnson’s physical transformation

BEFORE: Miami Heat forward James Johnson drives against the Orlando Magic forward Damjan Rudez in the first quarter of an preseason NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Miami.
BEFORE: Miami Heat forward James Johnson drives against the Orlando Magic forward Damjan Rudez in the first quarter of an preseason NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Miami. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Before he lost nearly 40 pounds, reignited his playing career and put himself in position for a big pay day this coming July, James Johnson found himself shirtless, embarrassed and a bit confused standing in front of the camera lens of an iPad inside the Heat's training facility last summer.

“It was weird to me – really weird to me,” said Johnson, a former first round pick of Chicago back in 2009, who in his first seven years in the league with the Bulls, Raptors, Kings, Grizzlies and Hawks had never been asked by the team's strength and conditioning coaches to pose shirtless for a photo.

“I thought I was going to be the only [player to do it] because I came in something huge... But then I ran through their iPad. It was like a magazine, a list of their accomplishments with other players and I saw it with my own eyes. And from what I saw on that iPad, I wanted to change myself.”

As Johnson, 30, flipped through Bill and Eric Foran's iPad, he saw before and after photos of dozens and dozens of former Heat players, who all went through the Foran's intense workouts and transformed their bodies into finely tuned, fit, athletic machines to survive the demands of coach Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley before him.

Of all the photos that stood out, Johnson said, it was that of seven-time All-Star and former Heat guard Joe Johnson, 35, who joined the team in late February of last season and was part of the Heat’s run to within a victory of the Eastern Conference Finals, which made the biggest impression on him.

“That’s because he came in with the Miami Heat so late and was still able to change his body like that,” James Johnson said. “It has a lot to do with the player, but all the compliments and all the rewards should go to the Forans.”

As the Heat (30-34) head toward the back stretch of the season as winners of 19 of its last 23 games, one overriding sentiment from the players who joined the team in the past year is how they all feel as though they are in the best shape of their playing careers.

Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Willie Reed and Johnson have all remarked how they’ve each trimmed their body fat levels considerably since joining the Heat.

“It's amazing,” Reed said in early February. “You see a transformation. Sometimes you can’t see it because you feel like you aren’t doing as much as you can, but when coaches show you film and you have people saying ‘Hey you’re getting better’ you start to understand it a little bit more. It’s just a testament to the Forans and coaching staff. It’s a testament to [personal trainers] Drew Hanlen and Stan Remy as well to help me become better offensively. The stronger I get, the more conditioned I get, I know I’ll be able to do what I’m doing now at a higher level.”

Johnson, though, could be the most amazing transformation yet for the Forans.

Although he missed Monday’s win in Cleveland because of an elbow injury and remains questionable for Wednesday’s game at home against Charlotte, Johnson is averaging career-highs of 12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and shooting a career-best 34 percent from three-point range this season. Before he came to Miami, he averaged 6.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists and was a career 26.6 percent shooter from three-point range.

And it’s not like he wasn’t athletic before. When Johnson came into the league he was a second degree black belt and former mixed martial arts fighter who could do a standing back flip and roundhouse kick a basketball wedged at the rim (he claims he last did that two summers ago in Toronto).

Still, when Johnson signed with the Heat last July, he was nowhere near the physical specimen he’s become today.

Last Wednesday, before the Heat crushed the Sixers and Johnson scored 14 points in the win, the Forans left another set of before and after photos of Johnson at his locker. On the left was the pudgy, 274-pound guy with 14.5 percent body fat who signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Heat. On the right was the photo of a chiseled, six-pack sporting Johnson from earlier in the afternoon.

“One of my happiest moments,” Johnson said last Friday in Orlando when he was asked about the set of photos. “And I'm not finished. I’m 238 [pounds] right now and 6.75 [percent body fat]. So, I’m just going to keep going, see how far it takes me. I feel like that the more I lose the more I unleash skills that I didn't think I was capable of having or doing.”

Johnson said the physical changes to his body with the Heat have allowed him to “do more things agility wise. I can move, cut through smaller spaces. And definitely give more effort out there in the game. I can go from 100 [percent] effort to 150 now.”

In order to maintain what he’s accomplished, Johnson said he’s stopped dining out at restaurants and is strictly eating home cooked meals. He also said he’s lifting weights every day. This summer, Johnson said, he’s not planning to leave the Foran’s side.

“This culture is real,” Johnson said. “Not only that, you know the kind of practices we have. We have those kind of practices where you can’t go out and hang out all night and think you’re going to be able to come to practice and really go hard. Because I’ll call you out, everybody on this team will call you out. We won’t leave it to the coaches to call you out. We take care of that ourselves. That’s the inside of the locker room.”

Inside his own locker, meanwhile, Johnson said he will continue to hang those before and after photos he gets from the Forans. He got one after he trimmed his body fat percentage to 10 percent, another one at 8 percent and then a new one last Wednesday.

“It’s not just motivation, but to see how far you came,” Johnson said. 

“The first time I got one, I wasn’t even where I’m at now, and I even had to call my old lady and say, ‘Yo, I’m sorry you had to be with this guy. I didn’t know it was that bad.’ She was at the pool with me and I’m thinking I’m good. But they were really just staring at her the whole time, I guess. It’s just good motivation and it’s a good reminder not to go back.”

Johnson had 14 points, four rebounds and three assists in the 125-98 win over Philly on Wed., March 1, 2017.

COMING UP NEXT

Wednesday: Hornets (28-35) at Heat (30-34)

When/where: 7:30 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami

TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)

Series: Heat lead 57-41

Scouting report: Heat leading bench scorers Tyler Johnson (sore left shoulder) and James Johnson (elbow) sat out Monday’s win in Cleveland and remain questionable. The Hornets won the first two meetings with the Heat and pounded the Pacers at home Monday. But Charlotte is 5-14 on the road versus the East this season.

MANNY NAVARRO

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