Riley crosses the line

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Running an NBA team is challenge enough for most people. Not Pat Riley. He wants in on Jenny Craig's and Richard Simmons' territory, too.

Miami coach Pat Riley, who is on a leave of absence after knee surgery, has been criticized for suspending Antoine Walker and James Posey for failing to meet body-fat requirements.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Miami coach Pat Riley, who is on a leave of absence after knee surgery, has been criticized for suspending Antoine Walker and James Posey for failing to meet body-fat requirements.

Before he rolls out a line of Sweatin' With Riles DVDs, though, he might want to reconsider. The Miami Heat are falling apart as fast as his creaky knees and hips. Benching players for body-fat violations is going to be as effective in the long run as a crash diet.

Riley took a leave of absence this week to deal with his achy joints and had knee surgery Friday. But before he limped off, he deactivated Antoine Walker and James Posey after they missed body-fat requirements by 1 percent. If they don't meet the requirements by Jan. 15, Riley warned, they could be suspended.

"It's not a disciplinary statement," he said Wednesday. "This is simply about something I believe in. And I really don't care what they think. What I believe in is the bedrock of my philosophy, which is conditioning, first and foremost."

Riley always has been a fitness fanatic, for his team and himself. Dwyane Wade is with the Heat because Riley needed some entertainment when he was on the treadmill one day, and he came across Wade torching Kentucky on Marquette's way to the 2003 Final Four.

When Shaquille O'Neal arrived, Riley greeted him with some harsh reality: Pare down or sit down. O'Neal is now looking as willowy as a guy who weighs 330 pounds can.

But there's a fine line between fitness and fanatic. Ask physiologists about Riley's mandates, and they question his reasoning.

"It's just arbitrary and doesn't make sense," said Constance Mier, an associate professor of sports and exercise science at Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla. "One guy who's at 8 percent might be performing optimally and a guy who's at 10 percent might be performing optimally. Body fat is one small factor in all the factors that go into performance."

A player with excess body fat will tire faster, and his explosiveness will be limited, said Cedric Bryant, the chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise.

The 6-foot-8, 217-pound Posey said his body fat was measured at 9 percent. Walker, at 6-9 and 245 pounds, said he's at 11 percent.

Body fat of 7 percent to 11 percent is considered healthy for elite basketball players.

"You'd be hard pressed to find any scientific study that would show, with a difference in 1 percent in body fat, that performance would be adversely affected," said Alan Utter, a professor at Appalachian State who followed 800 collegiate wrestlers from 1999-2004 to see the relationship between performance and body fat.

Holding players responsible for their fitness is one thing. In this case, though, it's little more than cosmetic surgery.


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