It’s unclear when the legend of Semi Ojeleye began, exactly, but the famous scouting report provided by Draft Express in 2017—which referred to his “thick, jacked frame”—certainly played a role in cultivating his status as the NBA’s most impressively muscled player. A 2017 second-round pick of the Boston Celtics, Ojeleye is cultivating a reputation as a defensive standout, but one thing he certainly doesn’t need to do much of anymore is work out. The man’s frame is indeed thick and jacked.
How Ojeleye attained his buff body—"Muscles Jesus" is just one of many nicknames he’s earned—has been the subject of considerable curiosity since he entered the league, but the answer is disappointingly straightforward: It's the product of pairing otherworldly athleticism with an exercise regimen that consists of no days off. Nevertheless, we asked the second-year player to talk through the evolution of his strength-training philosophy, his fondness for Sonic happy hour, and his thoughts on who the NBA's strongest pound-for-pound player really is. (Hint: Those who think they own that title would be well advised to do some more push-ups.)
GQ: I’m going to fact-check you right off the top. You once claimed you do 3,786 bicep curls a day. Are you going to stick to that number?
Semi Ojeleye: Ha, no. Never happened. That was a joke, and someone just took it and ran with it.
Worth checking. Were you always a strong-looking guy, or did that come after a certain age?
I probably started working out and hitting the weights at 13 or 14. It was just a consistency thing. In high school, I was just trying to get lifts in.
Was there something you did differently than other people? Was there a secret workout?
Not really. I guess when some people took days off, I didn’t. I just tried to go at it as hard as possible. When I started playing guys across the country, there were some big, athletic dudes in my class. That’s where I was trying to get my edge—I knew if I put in that extra day, it would help me catch up.
I need the full story on The Ox nickname. First off, who came up with it?
I’m not sure where that one started. It was a teammate, though. The nicknames just come and go, and I just roll with them. I’ve had people call me Thor. Someone called me a kangaroo in college. Then there’s the Ojeleye Factory—I don’t even know where that came from, but some Boston fans started that. I heard The Man Made of Granite, too. I couldn’t even dream of this stuff.
Does it annoy you, or do you think it’s funny?
It’s humbling, to be honest. It’s not like I worked out so people would give me nicknames, but it’s a good thing to have people joke about. It could be worse.
I watched a media day interview where you were asked about your workout routine, and you actually mentioned mobility and flexibility as the things you were focusing on the most. How did you decide to make that the focus of your workouts?
In high school, and when I first got to college, it was a lot of moving as much weight as possible and developing power. That was great, because I got that base, but when I got on the court, I didn’t feel that great. My athleticism was straight-line. I definitely wasn’t fluid at all.
Later in college, and after I got here with the Celtics, it was about mobility. There’s only so much strength you can use on the court without it just becoming unfluid and stiff. That’s been my main focus now—maintaining the strength that I have and turning it into basketball skills.
How does your workout routine go now that you have that base, as you called it?
The weights aren’t as big. It’s more about moving a smaller weight at a greater speed.
What do you do to increase your mobility and flexibility?
A lot of stretching and band work. As far as the weights go, again, trying to scale the amount of weight back, but going through a better range of motion. Instead of just doing squats or leg press, we’re doing Romanian deadlifts and single-leg squats. Those don’t allow you to use the wrong muscles—you have to have good form to complete the sets.
I also saw you cut out fast food and fried food. Were you a big fast-food guy growing up?
Oh, man, I used to love all that—Sonic, Burger King, McDonald’s. When you’re young and playing AAU, you don’t really have time to go get a good meal, so between games, you’re grabbing a McChicken and some fries and apple pies and going in. But when I started getting older and realized I didn’t have as much energy on the court sometimes, I needed to do everything I could to get that edge.
Sonic was especially tempting, because when you’re in high school, you escape from your parents and go meet your friends there.
Facts. Facts. Happy Hour.
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When did you cut out the fast foods?
As soon as I got to college. I stopped eating candy and stopped drinking soda, too. In college, the conditioning went to a whole other level. When I was at Duke, that was the most running I’ve done in my whole life. I thought, I’m not going to make it if I can’t breathe out here. I started to eat healthy and eat better.
What’s an average game-day diet look like for you?
We’re blessed to have a chef here at the facility, so he’ll make us a meal in the morning. Usually, I’ll have some scrambled eggs with a little spinach and ham. For lunch, I’m a big Chipotle guy, so I’ll go there and get a bowl with rice and chicken. I cut red meat out of my diet, so salmon with pasta before every game is the move.
Afterwards, the chef has a bunch of meals for us—usually the same type of thing. Carbs like pasta, fish or chicken, and then vegetables. So it’s pretty simple.
Do you still have a cheat food?
Red velvet cheesecake. That right there does it for me.
Are you making it from scratch or what?
Oh, no. Cheesecake Factory is my spot. It’s across the street from my apartment.
Who has the weirdest diet on the team?
Aron Baynes. He takes raw oats and puts yogurt, nuts, hemp, and all this hippie stuff in there and mixes it up. It looks like doo and he smashes it, like, every breakfast. He says it’s healthy. I don’t know about all that. It works for him.
I get the impression you’re a humble guy, and that’s great. But I need the truth here: Are you, pound for pound, the strongest guy in the NBA?
[Laughs] That’s up to the fans to decide. It’s the best athletes in the world, so we’re all at the top of our game working every day.
I’m going to ask you this a different way, because that was a great non-answer. Is there an NBA player you’ve gone up against who made you say, “Wow, that guy is definitely stronger than me”? If you can’t come up with any names, I’m going to assume you think you’re the strongest player.
I’ll say Giannis and LeBron. Those two dudes have been a tough matchup. Joel Embiid, too. I ran off a screen against JoJo, hit him, and almost got hurt. I thought, Next time, I’m going around. But I don’t think I’ve ever been up against a guy where I’ve thought, Man, I just can’t handle this.
I’ll leave it at that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.