The National Basketball Association is a league of superhumans. Let's face it. To us regular folks, NBA players are all mutants in long shorts and expensive shoes. Too tall not to notice. Too big for your hand not to meet the side of your face: "Did you see that guy?"
But on the court, things are different. Among their peers, few stand out. Built by Nike and powered by Gatorade, grouped together like the Cobra Kais of the All-Valley league in "The Karate Kid." Nearly indistinguishable in body and size, everyone looks similar. All capable of "SportsCenter"-worthy highlights and sweeping the leg.
Then there's the Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka.
You might not know it, but now you can say you've heard it: Serge Ibaka is the present-day future form of the NBA, with a look that girls fantasize about and guys only can imagine when they stand in front of their mirror. Alone.
Admit it: If you're a girl, don't lie. If you're a guy, you've done it.
This is the body Ibaka: A 6-foot-10 frame with a there's-no-way-you-can-be-serious physique that graces magazine covers, causes man crushes with fans and generates more Internet gossip than an eighth-grade lunchroom.
"A terrific body," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "An athletic machine. No other words to describe it."
Nothing other than the fact the rest of the NBA is gonna look like this guy real soon.
NEW KID ON THE BLOCKS
Do you know who Serge Ibaka is?
He recently was featured in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue and spent last season marinating as the next big (235-pound) talking point in Oklahoma City.
We've got Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. We've seen Chris Paul and the "Birdman" come and go. Now people are talking about " and looking at " the second-year pro from the Congo. He speaks four languages and blocks shots (1.3 per game last season; 2.0 in the playoffs). Although Ibaka has been more of a piece player for the Thunder " averaging only 6.3 points per game in just 18.1 minutes played per game last season " he undoubtedly will dabble in modeling and certainly will become a player the Thunder counts on this season.
In the meantime, he's standing out in a league of standouts.
"The body thing is interesting, because you look at the guys and you see how freakishly special they are," said Doug Gottlieb, former Oklahoma State basketball player-turned-national radio personality with ESPN. "With Ibaka, he was born with it. And now he's made himself into a great player."
Well, the great player part is debatable; his body is not. As for his upbringing in Brazzaville, the capital city of the Republic of Congo, Ibaka said he didn't do anything special growing up.
"Just basketball," he said. "Natural, I guess."
Now, with a year of NBA experience to his credit, the 21-year-old Ibaka's form and game are getting noticed.
"It's the body that everyone will want," said Darby Rich, who knows a bit about such things, having trained Blake Griffin at the University of Oklahoma, where Rich was part of Kelvin Sampson's and Jeff Capel's staffs. Rich also worked with OU's Anthony Kim, now a successful golfer on the PGA Tour and participant in the Ryder Cup.
"Look at it this way: Blake has about the best body anyone can have, but he isn't real long," he said. "Then you take Durant, who's long, but doesn't have the mass. Put them together, and you have LeBron James. Guys are paying attention to their bodies earlier in their life, and basketball players growing up are seeing players who aren't just long and skinny. They look good."
Or look at it this way: There are not a lot of guys out there with the game and the fame of LeBron James. Ibaka may be next.
"Those guys who look like the comic book heroes are the ones getting the Gatorade deals and the Sprite commercials," Rich said. "Look at their bodies. I mean, you can put them in a tank top or a muscle shirt and they just look impressive. There's no one who doesn't have a great body that's making a lot of money off the court. Players see that, and they want to look the same way."
A MODEL ATHLETE
Ibaka has the body. And he's answering the phone, too. The question is: Who's going to call next?
"I've had people in modeling talk to me," Ibaka said. "I'm thinking about only basketball now, but I've been approached about it. Maybe that's something I can do during a vacation or for some enjoyment."
ESPN The Magazine already called. Yet, Ibaka's marketability may be a secret. A top modeling agency in Oklahoma City refused to do an interview for Oklahoma Gazette about its thoughts on Ibaka. Even the biggest name in the male form game " Carson Kressley, formerly of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" " wasn't made available to the Gazette by his agency in Los Angeles.
Hiding something we don't know about?
And consider this: Who would know more about marketing the body and the basketball than the former future of the NBA, Darryl Dawkins? Or Charles Barkley, who made a career as a rebounder and a scorer with a body type more suited for "The Biggest Loser" than pro sports?
Dawkins entered the league in 1975 straight from high school with the body-perfect at 6-foot-11, 255 pounds, a marketing madman who was known more for breaking backboards and his nickname, "Chocolate Thunder," than for his skills.
He didn't return calls from his current job of coaching Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville, Pa. Barkley wasn't made available by the folks at Turner Sports.
Still, Ibaka said he was surprised ESPN came for the pictures.
"But it was fun," Ibaka said. "It was a great surprise and a great moment for me."
Jocks and Stiletto Jill, a blog billed as "ESPN meets 'Sex and the City,'" posted the Ibaka images "strictly for the ladies" to prevent men from feeling "inadequate."
Fun aside, when the lens cap is on and the camera's not rolling, Ibaka's body is the future of the league because it's utilitarian " the best option for the most people and providing the most benefits.
"I would say that he has the kind of build you need to make it in the league," said Chat Williams, supervisor of The Health Club in Norman, as well as serving on the National Strength and Conditioning Association Board of Directors in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Williams sees all types of bodies " from weekend warriors who grunt every time they do a set of bicep curls, to some of the most elite athletes in the world.
"We see people all the time at the gym, who we say, 'That guy has the right build to make it in the league or in the NFL or wherever,'" he said. "As far as his (Ibaka's) measurements go, he's got the right frame and the right body and the wingspan to be successful."
If James has the attention, Dwight Howard has the build and Kobe Bryant has a fistful of championship rings, what does Ibaka have?
"We have lots of guys who are in great condition and have 4 percent body fat," Brooks said. "But at 6-foot-10 like Ibaka? I haven't seen it before. He also does have a cute smile. I don't know if that's something you want to say about your center. I don't know if it's tough, but he has the personality and the ability to do whatever he wants after basketball."
For now, Ibaka just deals with the teasing from his teammates and an aggressive social network following.
"Yeah, I follow the guy on Twitter," said Thunder über-fan John English, 24, of Norman, who knew enough about Ibaka to mention that Ibaka tweets in both English and Spanish.
"I watch every game, go to a lot of them and I guess you could say I keep up. I mean, come on, he's good-looking in the face. After I saw those pictures, it made me want to go work out."
Top photo Serge Ibaka. Photo/Howard Schatz
Middle photo The Thunder's Serge Ibaka right, dubbed "Chewblocka" by fans, works the boards. Photo/Shannon Cornman
Bottom photo Serge Ibaka. Photo/Shannon Cornman