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Weight Watcher
Rick Reilly
September 27, 1993
The skinny on 7'6" Shawn Bradley: feeding furiously in Philly to fatten up
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September 27, 1993

Weight Watcher

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

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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?"

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