There have been coaches and staff members. There have been a small handful of players, like Dennis Rodman and Ron Harper. But the list of NBA people who have worked closely with both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant is short.
One of the most prominent is the guy who helped Jordan break through the physical pounding he took from the Detroit Pistons in the late 1980s, then later helped an aging Bryant find ways to strengthen and maintain his body through his final two championships with the Lakers, in 2009 and 10.
That would be renowned trainer Tim Grover, who first rose to prominence with Jordan in Chicago. Grover got to Jordan by consistently pestering the team’s training staff and, after finally getting a meeting with Jordan in 1989, convincing him to let him be his personal trainer.
“He told me I had thirty days,” Grover said. “But thirty days turned in fifteen years.”
Grover was just three years removed from getting his kinesiology degree at the University of Illinois-Chicago at the time.
Grover established a gym on Chicago’s West Side, Hoops the Gym, which was central for NBA players in the city during the offseason and became headquarters for the league’s predraft testing and scrimmaging program. He now runs ATTACK Athletics, also headquartered on the West Side of Chicago.
Tim Grover Meets Up With Michael Jordan
In the book, Facing Michael Jordan, Grover told me about his work with Jordan, which continued throughout the 1990s.
The key to what we were doing was to keep Michael fresh throughout the season. That was going to help him be tougher when the playoffs came. This is a problem that is prevalent even these days—you have athletes in all sports—not just basketball—they spend a lot of time training in the offseason. They will get themselves in great shape, they will work on a certain skill to try to improve their game, they will add muscle or lose weight or whatever it is. And that’s valuable. But seasons, in every sport, are extremely long, with the preseason, with the playoffs, all of it. They require a lot of time.
What happens is, in every physical game that you play, if you don’t continue to work on it, on a consistent basis, you are going to lose all of that progress every year. So you see players who start a season looking one way and actually finish it looking completely, completely different. That is what was happening with Michael, and we had to change it.
That was how Grover started, ‘The Breakfast Club,’ which was a group of Bulls that would get together and work out at Jordan’s house before the team was slated to practice. Scottie Pippen and Harper were regulars. The workouts strengthened Jordan and helped keep him in shape for two separate runs of three consecutive championships.
After thousands of hours of work, though, when Jordan retired, he had a funny message for Grover.
“When he retired, after fifteen years of these difficult, hard workouts at all these early hours—and I wrote this in the book—he told me, ‘If I ever see you in my neighborhood again, I am going to shoot you,'” Grover said. “That made me laugh, and I can understand that, enough is enough. Time to go.”
Tim Grover Meets Up With Kobe Bryant
When the Lakers were beaten by the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, Jordan did a favor for Kobe Bryant—he got Grover to help with his training. In another book, Facing Kobe Bryant, Grover told me about getting started with Bryant.
“I think Kobe was really frustrated. His knees were hurting, he wanted to find a way to keep himself at his top physical shape all the way through the Finals, and he felt like he was losing the ability to do that. So Michael Jordan—I had worked with Michael in the ‘90s—suggested that he call me, and that was the start of me working with Kobe. The first thing we had to do was go back and look at the 2008 playoffs and see what was wrong. It was obvious: he got tired, he peaked too early, then when the Finals came, he was worn down.
“And he told me what he was doing, how he was working out during the playoffs because he thought it would keep his energy up. But it was the opposite. He was doing too much, and I told him he needed to work out less during the playoffs, but just make the workouts he did more intense. He had to take it easy on his body; he was trying to do too much. It is not often you have to tell a guy, hey, you’re going too hard, take it easy.”
But Grover was able to better focus Bryant’s workouts and keep him fresh for the grind of an NBA Finals run.
There were obvious differences between Bryant and Jordan. But as much as anyone, Grover experienced what made them the same.
“When I first started working with Michael, he was at the top of his game individually, but he wanted to find a way to deal with the Pistons and how physical they were,” Grover said. “He wanted to break through and help his team beat those guys. He could have easily been satisfied with scoring 32, 33 points a night and going to the Hall of Fame. But he wanted to win. Kobe was the same way.”