At 7 feet tall and 243 pounds, you'd think retired basketball star John "Spider'' Salley relies on carbs and proteins to keep him big and strong.
Just the opposite. The four-time NBA champ, actor and podcast host eats a plant-based diet, shunning meat and anything that comes from an animal.
Salley became a vegetarian in 1991 and a vegan two years ago, pitching proper nutrition and exercise to audiences everywhere. He considers his role as wellness guru one of his most rewarding yet and comes to Tampa on Saturday to speak during the first Tampa Bay Veg Fest.
"I figured out when you eat something, it feeds your organs. Seven-footers don't live that long, and I want to live forever,'' he said. "I decided to jump to the good side.''
Veg Fest organizers invited Salley to help educate the public about animal cruelty issues and promote a veggie diet. They wanted to show that anyone can be a vegetarian, even athletes.
"We want to bring more awareness that being vegetarian is a fun thing and it's healthy,'' said Diane Koon, a board member of the Florida Voices for Animals, which is organizing the event. "We think that it's the easiest thing an individual can do.''
Salley, 46, isn't shy about pushing his healthful position. As co-host of the weekly sports podcast Spider and The Henchman, he steers callers toward natural remedies, rather than pills. As the third-place finisher on last year's I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!, he wooed contestants with his veggie cooking. He routinely calls meat "dead food.''
In an interview with tbt* from his home in Los Angeles, Salley talked about how vegging out improved his game and his life overall.
What were you doing before you became a vegetarian?
I was playing in Detroit. We had already won two championships. Everyone was walking around like we were King S--- and eating at what they considered to be the best restaurants, which now I consider to be worst restaurants. I'm eating lamb with mint jelly and saying, "Bring me another rack.'' I'm eating like a complete savage. When I find out the best restaurants don't even use a stove, that became my new thing.
How did being a vegetarian boost your game?
My aggression was stronger. My testosterone — remember I was only 27 years old — evened out to a great level. I was playing like I did in college. I was really quick. My aggression was according to my brain, not because I was transferring something. I was focused, and I was sleeping better.
What's a typical lunch for you at home?
I do something like an avocado sandwich with Vegenaise, mustard, live sprouts, grape tomatoes and some toasted bread. I eat avocado almost every day. I may mix bananas, mangos, papayas and blend it up. I eat papayas as often as possible.
I make my own soda. I used to love root beer so I got involved with a guy and make natural root-beer soda with purified water, natural flavoring and Xylilot (a natural sweetener). It tastes exactly like root beer.
What do you tell people who say they don't have the time to be vegetarian?
This will help you throughout your whole life. It stops you from being in a rush to go nowhere fast. It helps you … enjoy your life. The way things are going right now, they are rushing you on this rat race. Then they tell you that you can retire. When you finally step off the treadmill, you've got a disease you've got to deal with the rest of your life, taking a needle, taking a pill. That's no quality of life.