Building A Champion
Strength & Conditioning coach Bill Foran has been with the Miami Heat since inception.
by Chris Doherty / Pro Hoop Strength
“Big things have small beginnings.”
David’s cautionary message from the summer blockbuster Prometheus doesn’t just apply to the “Engineers” of mankind, but to sports franchises as well. In 1988, Miami was one of two cities (Charlotte the other) granted an expansion franchise by the NBA Board of Governors. Twenty-four seasons and two World Championships later, the Miami Heat are now both the focus city and the hub of the basketball airspace. With the American Airlines Arena as the hanger, the Heat players as the jetliner, and team President Pat Riley and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra as the pilots, HEAT-AIR has garnered the prestige of the Titanic, the admiration of Apple, and the Haterade status of Tiger, A-Rod and Michael Vick combined. Only one man, however, has been present since inception—Bill Foran, arguably the true “Engineer” of NBA strength and conditioning.
Foran is an oddity in professional sports. In NBA history, only John Stockton, Reggie Miller, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan have played 15 seasons or more all with the same franchise, and none of them were present for their team’s inaugural year. Foran has been with the Heat since Day 1 and all 24 years since. Since he was hired, the average gas price has gone from $0.91 to almost $4.00 a gallon, six Presidential elections have taken place, seven Summer Olympic Games have thrilled the world, yielding 5 USA Basketball gold medals, and no rookies from 1988 still play in the League. You have to rack your brain to think of many things that last 24 years. You’d have to perform a lobotomy to find something that improves in 24 years. Bill Foran and a fine Napa Valley merlot perhaps?
Foran’s small beginnings began less than two months before George Bush, Sr. was elected President of the United States. Bill was a consultant for the Heat, while serving as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Miami—a tenure that saw The U win two football National Championships in 1987 and 1989. While Foran’s “Engineering” prowess undoubtedly began with the Hurricanes, the Heat just so happened to practice at The U during the 1988-89 season. Sometimes, logistics is the best recruiter.
Near the end of year one, Heat Coach Ron Rothstein decided he wanted a full- time strength and conditioning coach, so he arranged a meeting between Foran and team Managing Partner Billy Cunningham—a Hall of Famer. As the two discussed Foran’s initiation into the Heat fraternity, there was a knock on the door. It was Mr. 100 himself, Wilt Chamberlain, who was in Miami for a volleyball tournament and wanted see his buddy, Billy. Within earshot of the meeting’s conversation topic, Chamberlain put in a two cents worth several million—or 24 years of whatever Wilt’s 2 cents can get you.
“You know, Billy, when I was in college at Kansas in the late 50′s, basketball players were not allowed to lift weights, but track athletes did. Everyone thought I dominated because I was bigger than everyone; I was stronger than everyone. You HAVE to have a Strength and Conditioning Coach.”
Nothing like one of the greatest players of all-time crashing the job interview as an impromptu reference! Thus, when the Heat hired Foran full time in 1989, they became just the 6th NBA team with a full-time strength coach. Thanks, Wilt!
Now, the story doesn’t just begin and end with Wilt the Stilt playing matchmaker and some “Dress in my place” scene out of the movie Rudy. Foran’s an “Engineer!” If biogenesis is the belief that living things come from other living things, “Foranesis” is the process by which strength and conditioning coaches leave a lasting impression for their followers only after molding them in the first place. He might not have the household name of his boss Pat Riley, or sell tickets like the Big Three. He is, however, the owner of the franchise’s largest carbon footprint- it’s pretty visible in every facet of the team’s evolution.
Rony Seikaly was the first ever draft pick for the Heat in 1988. As an expansion team, the Heat invariably started 3 rookies, including Seikaly, at center. At 6-10 and 230 pounds, he struggled against stronger, more powerful, and more seasoned competition. The following summer, Seikaly was all over his offseason workouts like fleas on shit—he didn’t miss a single gym date with Foran throughout the grueling 12-week, four-day split routine. At 252 pounds, a body fat percentage that mimicked his rookie year, and a three-inch spike in his vertical, Seikaly’s physical enhancements and improved play earned him the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award for the ’89 season. If Rony, his teammates, or the franchise had any remaining doubts as to what strength and conditioning could do for an athlete, they were obliterated like a seagull in a jet engine.
Seven years after Seikaly’s coming out party, Foran inherited journeyman Ike Austin—a player the Heat liked, but who was overweight at 6-10’ and 305 pounds. After committing to another Foran split routine, shedding 40 pounds, and improving his athleticism, Austin too won the NBA’s MIP award and the Heat won 61 games during the 1997 season.
This all happened just two years after Pat Riley left the rival New York Knicks to captain HEAT-AIR as Team President and Head Coach—a change in regime and expectations that could pretty much be summed up as “the difference between Apple as a company with Steve Jobs, and Apple when they fired him in 1985.” In Foran’s first meeting with the coaching legend, he was told two things: “Fundamentals and Conditioning. If you have those, you have a chance.”
Fortunately for both Foran and Riley, their dichotomy has worked to a T for 18 years. Riley understands the importance of strength and conditioning as it pertains to a team’s cumulative wellness, and Foran understands the importance of the group and the team. Without such an intact, give and take, co-appreciation for each other’s craft-, few teams develop and remain healthy consistently. After the Heat took Dwyane Wade with the No. 5 pick in the 2003 Draft, a once ambitious startup franchise was suddenly ready to go public quite emphatically.
When the Miami Heat won the NBA Championship in 2006, they were led by a rising star in Wade, a future Hall of Famer in Shaq, and a supporting cast of seasoned role players. Breezing past the Bulls and Nets in the first two rounds before defeating the Pistons in the Conference Finals, the Dallas Mavericks were a consummate reality check as the Heat lost the first two games by double figures. After the second loss, Riley calmly scribed “June 20th” on the locker room’s dry-erase board. He then said, “that is the day we will hoist the trophy.” On June 20th, the Miami Heat hoisted the trophy. After 18 years with the Heat, Foran could now say something that few coaches or players ever have—that what began teaching Rony Seikaly how to squat properly in 1989 had now allowed him the chance to admire a finished product, with the whole outweighing the sum of the parts.
At present day, of course, the Heat are defending Champions after having had the tables turned on them by the same Mavericks in 2011. While hatred follows them to almost every township outside of South Beach, Foran believes that the wrath directed toward the franchise only serves to motivate the group as a whole.
“This team came together to win, plain and simple. In the days of chasing the biggest contracts, the Big 3 as well as the others all took less money to try and win Championships together!”
And it shows in their commitment. Every single day, Foran recounts his workouts and conversations with not only the likes of LeBron, Wade and Bosh, but veterans like Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier as well, who played their roles almost flawlessly throughout the Championship run. What it takes to profile a winning team is not found in a team’s star power or bravado, but in the intricate details of a team’s chemistry and execution.
Success, rather, is not found in one man’s brilliant design, but in a group’s fulfillment of his design. Bill Foran might be the original “Engineer” of the Miami Heat’s strength and conditioning efforts, but the Heat franchise has equally trusted his efforts and allowed them to flourish and transform. The team has been the benefactor. Who could have guessed that such small beginnings would yield such big things? Only time will tell how big. Bill’s got time.
Chris Doherty is the Managing Editor of the soon-to-be-launched website, Pro Hoop Strength—the site where the pros train the pros…literally. Comprised of the strength and conditioning coaches of the NBA teams, PHS is the online home of professional basketball strength and conditioning.