SLAM ONLINE Interviews: Phil ‘The Gift’ Heath

On the cutting room floor with Mr. Olympia.
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by Maurice Bobb / @ReeseReport

The NBA’s latest campaign boasts that BIG things are coming, but it doesn’t get any bigger than the reigning Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath. We caught up with The Gift himself for our Dime Drop in SLAM 154 and as is the case in most of these interviews, there was a lot left on the cutting room floor. Here, we’ll treat you to Heath’s Dime Drop interview as well as some of the other quotables that didn’t make it in the mag. And since we’re only a few days into the New Year, the tips the champ doled out for getting ripped may serve you well. If not, you can pass them on to Boris Diaw.

SLAM: So you won state in high school?

Phil Heath: Yes, Jamal and I won the state title together in ’98 in the Kingdome. That game is on YouTube now that I think about it. Those were some great times. In fact, I just saw on Twitter where someone asked Jamal, “What was your greatest basketball moment?” and he said, “Winning a state championship in 1998.” Jamal was a beast. He transferred to Rainer during my senior year. My numbers went down from like 16 ppg to like 12 ppg, but it was fun because we won. Guys would double Jamal when he’d penetrate, he’d kick it out to me and I’d knock it down. My three-point percentage was over 45 percent. Or I’d steal the ball and dunk it on the other end.

SLAM: You could dunk?

PH: Not only could I dunk, but I was also always our representative in high school slam-dunk contests. I could do 360 windmills and all kinds of cool dunks back then.

SLAM: A lot of guys came out of Rainer Beach.

PH: Oh yeah. Players that came in after me that made it to the League were Nate Robinson and Terrence Williams. Doug Christie played there, and when I was a freshman, Jason Terry was a senior at Franklin.

SLAM: Any of the guys clown you for ditching basketball for bodybuilding?

PH: Guys I know like Jamal and Chauncey Billups think it’s cool. Some guys will make fun of a bodybuilder real quick, but then dunk on somebody and flex their biceps. Where do you think they get that from? They get it from us.

SLAM: Who’s your team?

PH: I have season tickets to the Denver Nuggets, but to be honest, I just root for guys I know. No matter where Jamal and Nate play, I’ll be their No. 1 fan. I grew up a Sonics fan; I’m so pissed that we don’t have a team anymore, because Kevin Durant is such a beast.

SLAM: Which NBA players would make great bodybuilders?

PH: I’d say Dwight Howard, Tony Allen and LeBron James because you can see it. But best overall would be Nate Robinson.

SLAM: Do you still play?

PH: Occasionally, but I don’t dunk anymore. Wouldn’t be so smart when I’m carrying 270 pounds.

SLAM: What was it like to win your first Mr. Olympia title?

PH: For me it’s pretty cool because I never thought in a million years I’d be the best bodybuilder in the world when I was growing up, especially playing basketball. But it feels great to know that beyond reasonable doubt I am the best at what I do for a living and not a lot of people can say that. I mean, in basketball, it’s who’s the best point guard or who’s the best player in the NBA. Even when the MVP is still crowned, they still say this guy or that guy is still better. But when you’re Mr. Olympia, there is no one better. There have only been 13 Mr. Olympias in its 47-year span and during that same time period there have only been eight presidents so you see how unique that really is. So in a way, I’ve already made it to the bodybuilder Hall of Fame. I’ve already etched my name in history. And I’ve only begun my career; it’s just really getting started.

LAM: What kind of prizes do you get when you win the Mr. Olympia?

PH: When you win the Mr. Olympia, you get a cash prize of $200,000 and you receive the Eugene Sandow trophy along with two Olympia gold medals. And what that does then is obviously open up more opportunity for guest appearances, bigger endorsement contracts, supplements companies, workout equipment and workout apparel, all that stuff is at your disposal. So it really opens up a lot of doors since you’re the No. 1 person, you’re the ambassador for the sport. Right now, I have major endorsements with Muscle Tech and Weider.

SLAM: How much do you get for guest posing?

PH: It can range up in the 10s of thousands of dollars just like to sit and sign autographs for two hours. That’s not even guest posing. It all depends on your personality, your ability to connect with the fans, what type of overall likeness you have because you can still be the champ and still have no one really like you. We’ve seen that in other sports as well. But if you have that ability to connect with people and people want to know you and ask you questions and you’re approachable in this sport, the possibilities of making money are endless because I can literally be gone every weekend throughout the year if I really wanted to but obviously I compete and stuff so I usually work about 20-25 weekends out of the year. Domestic appearances are one thing but to travel internationally, I mean, it’s all negotiable based on that number I just gave you it could be triple or quadruple based on that number I just gave you. Bodybuilding is a very lucrative business.

SLAM: But isn’t it still a cult sport?

PH: Here in the states, yes, it’s somewhat of a cult sport. When I walk down the street, people say, “Oh, you must play football or wrestle or something?” and I’m like, No, I’m a bodybuilder. Then they say, “Oh, you get paid?” Yeah, I actually do. It feels like no one in the states even gives a damn. I would say that the top-10 guys in the world get paid enough where they shouldn’t have to really work a day job. The top five to top three, there’s not much difference in total revenue that wouldn’t set us amongst third tier mainstream athletes that make over a $1 million. But when I travel abroad, I literally have banners and commercials in addition to billboards. I was in Slovakia earlier this year and my bodybuilding show was gonna be just as big of a draw as the world hockey championships. And I was like there’s no way in hell there’s billboards of me everywhere—more billboards of me than the freakin’ hockey tournament. The world hockey championships were going on the same week. And I’m laughing and I say, How much money, if you don’t mind me asking, [did] you put in to just the advertising? And he said about $1 million. I said, For an amateur contest that I’m appearing in?! He says, ‘Yep, you don’t understand you’re huge in Europe and Asia. That’s all people talk about.’

SLAM: Looking at you now, it’s hard to imagine you played basketball at the college level. How was that experience for you?

PH: My career at University of Denver wasn’t great at all. There were a lot of ups and downs obviously, I was disappointed I didn’t play a lot but with that said, I got to meet a lot of cool guys that I’m still friends with and travel a lot of places. I remember playing at Ohio State right after Scoonie Penn left. That was one of the most intimidating places I’ve ever played in my life. It was on ESPN2, which was my first time being on ESPN. The first thing I said was, I gotta get in the book somehow. So I gave my teammate an alley and he scored, I was like, Thank God! We got destroyed by Oregon. By 48 points. I used to love watching guys come into our gym and huff and puff. It always affected their conditioning. We’d laugh. Another one of my favorite moments was against Louisiana Lafayette Rajun Cajuns and I got a couple dunks in that game. I got one on this guy, can’t remember his name, but for me to dunk on anybody was pretty impressive. The whole place was like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ Then I got another one and the people were like, ‘This guy ain’t supposed to do that!’ I think with us being a brand new Division I team coming from Division II, that transition was rough. We got our butt whipped a lot!

SLAM: When did you decide to switch gears and become a bodybuilder?

PH: I actually documented that day, it was October 8, 2002. I ended up buying a digital camera and this was like weeks after watching guys in the gym train and stuff and here I am still trying to play that summer in the Pro Am basketball league mess thinking that I’m gonna get picked up somewhere and I started watching these guys train and I was like man this is pretty cool, these guys were kinda fat a few months ago and now they’re all shredded. I wanna get right for the summer, so I ordered a digital camera on eBay and waited ’til all my teammates left because I was still living in the basketball house in my fifth year of college and then I started taking pictures. I just always assumed you should take pictures when you start so you can figure out where you need to sculpt. I just went off of that and every four weeks I would take more pictures and chart my progress by printing them out and kinda drawing and saying I want bigger shoulders and bigger chest and sculpted abs and how I should get there. I would reference various magazines on how to eat and what type of training I needed to do. My training wasn’t as good as it is now but it’s better than being a basketball player. I mean, you know how basketball players are, they eat skittles and drink sodas before a game if not worse and still go score 30, but being a bodybuilder you can’t do that. You can’t have cookies and stuff. It took a while to get used to that, but just the simple fact of me not running 3 or 4 miles a day slowed my metabolism down, so I wasn’t burning so much fuel and I burned more fuel actually weight training and that’s what helped me grow so fast. My father, who I didn’t grow up with, seeing old pic of him in mid 20s, he had some decent arms and calves and usually black guys don’t have calves. So I was like, my uncles on my mom’s side were pretty athletic—they all played ball in college—I might be on to something here. I definitely had the genetics on my side no question because without that you’re only gonna go so far in bodybuilding.

SLAM: You won a state title in high school with Jamal Crawford. Do you keep in touch with him?

PH: When he plays in Denver, I actually get a chance to visit with him. I don’t really bother him because I know how busy I get and I don’t feel like it’s necessary. I mean, I have his phone numbers and stuff, but I’m not gonna text him and call him all the time and waste his time. When he’s in town, I’ll hit ‘em and say hey. I always have to remind him that I already have tickets. I sit four rows behind his opposing team’s bench, so he’ll see me. I always tell him don’t worry, I’m not the high school friend that’s gonna ask you for money. I already got mine. I remember telling Jamal when we were in high school: You’ll always get people that are gonna ask you for stuff who’ll feel entitled to your success, but the only thing I’ll ever ask for if you see me in the street, is to just say what’s up or give me a head nod or high five and we’re all good. I don’t expect anything after that.

SLAM: What do you say to people who accuse you of using steroids?

PH: When they ask me that, I ask, Why dude, you think I need to? I think that’s just common ignorance. Usually, people that do that are insecure already so they think that’s the only way I got like that. And what people have to focus on is, ‘What is he doing to get himself like that?’ They don’t wanna ask. If it was that easy, everybody would be good. So it has to be more than that. And we’ve all see multiple athletes. Are you seriously gonna discount that I get up at 4:30 every morning and go do 45 minutes of cardio. They don’t realize I eat seven or eight times a day of healthy food. Most people couldn’t tell me the macros that are in every meal they take throughout the day. Because the average person doesn’t do it. They’re not gonna know how healthy fats work and guess what? I get paid to do this. Has anyone ever known someone that could just look at a weight and grow? No. Sure, I’m genetically gifted, but what if someone genetically gifted like me, took that talent and became educated about nutrition and given the money and resources to do it? You’d look like me too. My job is to weight lift. I train with best equipment. I get more treatment on my body than the average football player. Acupuncture four days a week, massage one to two days a week, I get chiropractic work, I get decompression people don’t even know what the hell that is, which is elongating the spinal cord and vertebrae. They don’t educate themselves on the process. I have an infrared sauna at my house to eliminate toxins and hyperbaric chamber in my house. Just all the things I mentioned. I have a chicken sponsor and an egg white sponsor. I’m getting the best food. I have the black man’s dream: free chicken!

SLAM: Since everyone will be looking to get in shape for the New Year, give us an example of how to eat right.

PH: You need to realize it’s all about food selection and portion control. Food selection, meaning people will say, ‘Well I can’t cook for myself everyday.’ Well you can still go to fast food places and still eat healthy. Don’t get the big cheeseburger, fries and a Coke. You can do like a chicken burger, less saturated fats. You don’t have to get the sauces on it and a lot of places will let you have it your way with no salt and no butter on the bun. You just have to let them know how you want it. You can tell them don’t put butter on my steak, don’t use heavy oils. You gotta eat protein with every meal: turkey, chicken, eggs, steak and fish and not relying on vegan diet to get protein. Make sure you get protein with every meal and drink a lot of water. You also have to drink a lot of water. The average person should drink at least one ounce of water for every pound they weigh. Water is important because it helps flush out all the toxins in your body and it helps absorb all the nutrients you’re taking in. And for those that want to get leaner, try to eliminate as much sugar as possible: sodas, even milk has sugar in it. A lot of things that are low fat have tons of sugar in it, so salad dressings that are low fat have sugar. Check labels for sugar contents, glucose stores as fat very quickly. Watch your portions if you’re trying to get lean and if you love BBQ sauce and ketchup, you’re gonna be in trouble because they’re both very high in sodium and carbs. Sodium will bloat you and sugar doesn’t get used quick enough.

Follow IFBB pro bodybuilder Phil Heath as he attempts to earn the Olympia crown in Becoming Number 13, available at phillipheath.com.

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