KC Johnson

Chicago Tribune

Oct. 7, 2001

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His old-school habits have helped him survive and flourish in a hip-hop world, and if Charles Oakley doesn't acknowledge pride in that, he at least recognizes the dynamic.

Forget the fancy gyms. Keep the personal trainers for sporadic use, if at all. Just give Oakley some open road or even some hotel steps and get out of his way.

Oakley is a mobile sort each off-season, visiting the friends he knows and the car-washes he owns across the country. And he has learned that sweat is the same no matter where it's produced.

"It doesn't matter if I'm in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Alabama or Detroit, I just go running in the early morning or really late at night," Oakley said. "I run the streets of Cleveland at some crazy hours. If I'm at a hotel, I'll run the steps.

"I do it myself. I've never had a personal trainer. I do some stuff with [Bulls strength coach] Al Vermeil or Tim Grover [Michael Jordan's trainer], but not much. I know what I have to do.

"If I wasn't playing basketball, I'd still want to have a body that's presentable. I don't want to walk around with a gut. I see some guys retire and let themselves go. I don't want to do that.

"You've got boxers who are 40 or 50 years old. It's not how old you are, it's how you keep your body. A lot of young guys' bodies look like marshmallows. Not mine."

Indeed, only 10 weeks before his 38th birthday, Oakley remains a physical marvel. At 6 feet 9 inches and a sculpted 245 pounds, the Bulls' power forward is able to trade elbows and fight for rebounding position with the best of them.

In 78 games with Toronto last season, he logged 2,767 minutes, the fifth-highest total of his workmanlike, 16-year NBA career. The total would have been third highest on the Bulls.

In his last five seasons, Oakley has missed just 11 games. And, he'll remind you with a raised eyebrow and crooked smile, most of those were the result of suspensions, not injuries.

No wonder coach Tim Floyd has teenage rookies Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry near Oakley at every opportunity in practice. Oakley's a snarling, elbowing, walking embodiment of longevity.

"We want them around Charles," Floyd said. "We want them to understand how strong they're going to have to get."

After the Bulls traded for him in July, Oakley spent two hours on the morning of his introductory news conference introducing himself to the Berto Center weight room. He increases his cardiovascular workouts from four or five to five or six times a week as the season nears. He has yet to miss a second of practice time after a week of double sessions.

"Oak's like anybody else—he has injuries and pains. But he doesn't miss practices or games," said guard Greg Anthony, a teammate of Oakley's with the Knicks for four seasons. "He does all the dirty work. He dives on the floor for loose balls. He's there to take up a teammate's back if there's an altercation. He doesn't back down from anyone.

"Anytime you can play in this league as long as he has at the level he's played at, that's toughness."

Don't expect Oakley to blush at such words. As far as he's concerned, the reason for his approach is a simple one.

"I have a contract," he said. "I honor my contract. I don't want the younger kids to think that because I'm older I get special treatment. I want to go through what they go through. That's why I've been around so long. I'm dedicated.

"No, I didn't think I'd play 17 years. But I knew leaving wouldn't be because of my physical condition. It would be because I couldn't play anymore. I wasn't going to put myself out. They had to put me out.

"And it's getting easier, not harder. The hard part was the first five years in the league. You don't know what you're doing then.

"Now I know. I take care of my body. I'm never banged up. I don't get sore. I'm just made to play ball and made to work."