Serge Ibaka appears to have misplaced all of his clothes while leaping, which, I mean, who among us hasn't been there before:
Yep, that's the Oklahoma City Thunder power forward as portrayed on the cover of the 2014 edition of ESPN the Magazine's "Body Issue," which was fully (and I mean "fully") unveiled Tuesday and which hits newsstands on July 11. Ibaka is one of six athletes to appear on covers of this year's model, joining Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder, U.S. Olympic slopestyle snowboarding champion Jamie Anderson, Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and seven-time tennis Grand Slam singles champion Venus Williams. Twenty-two athletes bare it all in this year's magazine, in total.
Ibaka is the sixth NBA player to appear on the cover of a "Body Issue," joining past cover boys Dwight Howard (2009), Amar'e Stoudemire (2010), Blake Griffin (2011), Tyson Chandler (2012) and Kenneth Faried (2013). He's the seventh NBA player overall to participate in the annual affair, as Washington Wizards point guard John Wall took part last year, but didn't get a cover look. (Sorry, John.)
It feels like just moments ago that Ibaka's body was the subject of much concern, following the left calf injury he suffered in the Thunder's series-clinching second-round victory over the Los Angeles Clippers that threatened to keep him out for the remainder of Oklahoma City's postseason run. Ibaka would miss only two games of the Western Conference finals, however — much to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich's amusement — before making his presence felt in a huge Game 3 return that sparked an Oklahoma City victory and gave the Thunder new life.
Even as the Thunder brass maintained their defensive centerpiece would miss the remainder of the postseason, as Ibaka told ESPN the Magazine's Morty Ain, he refused to believe he couldn't come back and make a difference:
I told them, "Hell no, no surgery." [The doctors] told me I was going to be out for the rest of the playoffs: "The MRI showed that you are bleeding a lot in your calf and you're going to be out the rest of the playoffs." But my heart was telling me, "You're going to be back."
I didn't want to believe that God could let me down like that. I said "I'm not just going to sit back and watch the rest of the playoffs at home." I wasn't listening to them. They told me "This is dangerous, this is serious; you can't play like that." I was like, "Man, excuse me, I'm about to play. This is too early to happen to me. (1) I'm not getting surgery, and (2) Trust me, I'm going to be back to play. At least one game, at least Game 7 or Game 6 or whatever, I will play."
Ibaka played four games, averaging 11.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in 35.1 minutes per game from Game 3 through Game 6, when the Spurs eliminated the Thunder from the playoffs before advancing to defeat the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA finals. It marked a disappointing ending to what had been a banner season for Ibaka, who led the NBA in blocked shots for the fourth straight season, earned his third consecutive selection to the All-Defensive First Team and placed fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting while also averaging career highs in scoring (15.1 points per game), rebounding (8.8 points per game), 3-point shooting (38.3 percent), free-throw accuracy (78.4 percent) and Player Efficiency Rating (19.6, the league's 12th-best mark among the 6-foot-10-or-taller set).
Ibaka once again enters the offseason aiming to improve his game to the point where he can take home the DPoY crown and anchor a Thunder defense stingy enough to bookend the Kevin Durant-and-Russell Westbrook-led offense for a return to the NBA Finals, where they fell short against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat after the 2011-12 season. And, as in years past, a big part of that work will entail continued development of his strength and conditioning, something the 24-year-old from the Congo told Ain he takes very seriously:
I wish I had more body parts that I could work out. If I had my way, I'd be in the gym all day. I love to lift. When I don't have basketball practice, I'll be in a gym for 2.5 hours — 30 minutes abs, 2 hours lifting. [...]
If you put some work in, you can have this body. It's not because all basketball players have this body, no. I have this kind of body because I put a lot of work into it. I work out a lot.
Here's another look at Ibaka's modeling work:
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