From MJ to Kobe, an off-court dynasty

Dwyane Wade works out with personal trainer Tim Grover at Attack Athletics. AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Twenty years ago, Tim Grover met Michael Jordan for the first time.

On Tuesday, still riding the magic created from that career-launching meeting, Grover was in Los Angeles working with Kobe Bryant.

As the Lakers were falling to the Nuggets in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Monday night in Denver, Grover was boarding a plane from Chicago to L.A. He arrived at 11 p.m. PT, and less than 12 hours later, he and Bryant met to discuss ways to prepare for Game 5. They planned to meet again later in the day.

"As physical as the Denver series has been, [the Houston series] and other stuff, he understands this is part of the reason he's been successful for so many years, and he's not willing to change that," Grover said. "It's easy to lay around, but just resting on the couch is not beneficial.

"Kobe is coming off playing a game in Denver where the altitude is different. All that comes into play with his hydration, nutrition, how he's going to prepare for the next day. There's a lot of preparation that goes into it before meeting with the athlete. Being that I'm as obsessed as the clients are, they're willing to trust me."

Grover is paid a nice sum for traveling across the country -- and now likely staying on the West Coast until the Lakers either win the title or get eliminated. But to him, like his clients, winning is what matters most.

"It is taxing, but we're as committed as our athletes," he said. "We're as obsessed as they are. Kobe fell short of his goal last year to win a championship. Our job won't be complete until he wins that championship. Anything short of that is a failure. That's how I feel about it."

And Grover's instincts have been sharp enough to gain the trust of NBA royalty.

Jordan had just been knocked around again by the elbows, knees, chests, heads and fists of Detroit's "Bad Boys." Jordan understood if he and the Bulls were to go further, his body had to be better prepared for such playoff punishments.

Grover was only 24 then, and Jordan was to be his first professional client, but Grover was sure he had Jordan's answer.

"He said he'd try it out for a month, and it ended up being 15 years," Grover said.

Jordan, of course, went on to win six titles and is regarded as perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time. For Grover, the arc was similar. His accomplishments can't be measured in rings or MVP trophies, but he also has proof of success. His client list includes Bryant, Dwyane Wade and more than a dozen others; he employs his own small army of trainers and owns a 65,000-square foot facility on Chicago's West Side that includes three NBA courts, over $1 million worth of exercise equipment, a barber shop and a 110-inch television.

"It's not just hiring Tim Grover any longer," Grover said. "You're hiring Tim Grover and Attack Athletics and everything that comes with it."

In the 20 years since that initial meeting with Jordan, Grover has witnessed technology and training methods develop beyond his dreams. But while Grover has adapted and added new pieces to his training program, his core has remained the same. Whether it was building Jordan's body to absorb Bill Laimbeer's elbows or strengthening Wade's knee for last summer's Olympics or currently maintaining Bryant's body, Grover has relied on preparation and hard work.

"That's something my parents instilled in me at a very young age," said Grover, who grew up on Chicago's Northwest Side and later played college basketball at Illinois-Chicago. "There are no shortcuts. There's no substitute for hard work. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. You saw that in Game 3 when Kobe hit that 3. That's not luck. He's prepared to take that shot. We've hit him with pads while taking that shot. When the opportunity came on, he took it.

"It's the same thing Dwyane did, Michael did, all the super superstars. It doesn't happen by mistake."

It didn't happen by mistake or coincidence that Bryant, Jordan and Wade all hired Grover.

"It's a first-class organization here with Tim Grover, first with Hoops and now with ATTACK Athletics," Wade said after a Grover workout last summer following the Olympics. "It's a first-class thing we run. I say we because I feel so much a part of it because I've been coming here since my rookie year."

Grover often is asked what the common denominator is between the greats he has trained, and Grover has found it's that ultimate focus and dedication.

"Here's what they're willing to do: They understand the sacrifice that it takes," he said. "Getting to the top of the mountain isn't the hard part. It's staying on top. They know it's not just an in-season thing, an offseason thing, a preseason thing. It's a year-round thing. They have to make sacrifices to go places where you don't normally want to go."