Before LeBron James was a Laker, Gideon Oji was one.
A Clayton State University Laker, that is.
But the 6-foot-9 native of Zaire, Nigeria, stopped dribbling the ball a few years ago, last playing for Clayton State’s men’s basketball team in 2015. Since then, he’s traded in his sneakers and shorts for a bib, to keep crumbs from dribbling down his shirt.
Oji, 26, is now a competitive eater, and one of the best in Major League Eating — which is a real thing.
On Wednesday, he finished sixth out of 21 competitors in the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, New York, scarfing down 37.5 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes on ESPN2.
It was the fourth straight year that Oji competed in the contest. Joey Chestnut, who may or may not be human, won his 11th Nathan’s title by eating a world-record 74 hot dogs Wednesday.
But Oji holds world records too. On July 9, 2016, he devoured 25.5 16-ounce bowls of chopped kale in eight minutes. On Oct. 8, 2016, he guzzled down 1.3 gallons of green chili stew.
In a 2016 interview with Thrillist, Oji said his body is “like a machine” and digests food fast.
“(My body) gets rid of whatever I put through it,” Oji said. “I didn't really go through any pain or anything like that… I actually felt good for a couple days after.”
And what’s the hardest part about competitive eating? For Oji, who checks in at 225 lbs., it’s not chewing or digesting.
“Swallowing involves a lot of mental and physical (strength),” Oji told Thrillist. “I'm working on my swallowing ability, and that's what's giving me the edge, and that's what gave me the edge with kale.”
Oji nearly didn’t qualify for Nathan’s this year because he arrived late to a qualifying contest. He missed the first 6 minutes and 40 seconds of the competition, but rebounded quickly, taking down 21 hot dogs and buns in 4 minutes and 20 seconds to make the cut.
In 16 games with Clayton State’s men’s basketball team over two seasons, Oji shot 36 percent from the floor and averaged 1.3 rebounds per-game.
He might not be able to beat LeBron James on a hardwood court, but at a kitchen table, odds-makers would give Oji the edge.
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