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Tim Grover Q&A: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Winning

The trainer behind Jordan and Kobe opens up about his relationships with them and his new book, W1nning.

Tim Grover’s résumé is the stuff of legends.

Grover, the CEO of Attack Athletics, has called Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and countless other superstars clients. Now he is a best-selling author. After releasing his first book, Relentless, eight years ago, he is back with a new one, W1nning, that shares stories on the competitive mindsets of Jordan and Bryant.

Sports Illustrated spoke to Grover about his new book, working with Jordan and Bryant and much more.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Sports Illustrated: Relentless was a huge success. Take me behind the concept of your new book, W1nning.

Tim Grover: Well, W1nning is an extension of Relentless. Relentless was the mindset of the ultimate competitors out there. That mindset isn’t for everyone, but W1nning is for everyone. We all want to win, the ability to win is in all of us. Winning is everywhere. Every single moment we have an opportunity to win and with everything that we've gone through in the world lately, people have forgotten what a win looks like—and that’s what this book is about. It’s not about the glamour. It’s not about the glory. It’s not about the payday. It’s about the obstacles and challenges and the pain you go through along the way. That’s what people don't like to talk about, because they just want to see what winning looks like at the end, and that’s what I want to explain in this book.

SI: One of my favorite parts in the book is when you explain how you first connected with Jordan. When you were looking for clients, you sent out 14 letters to every Bulls player besides him, and he saw your note in another player’s locker and reached out to work with you. Do you ever look back at that moment and tell yourself, “If I didn’t send these letters, the NBA as we know it would have been different”?

Grover: Well, I know my life would have not been the same. But listen, I always say this, right? MJ would have been the greatest basketball player with or without me. I don’t take credit for that. I helped him stay there a little bit longer. That’s where my role was in this. MJ would have been extremely successful. He would have still had all the accolades. I didn't start with him in the beginning of his professional career. I started with him in ’89. So I will never say, “Hey, I’m the reason why he is who he is.” He is the reason for who he is. I helped him with the ability to stay there at that championship level a little bit longer. That was my role.

SI: I love this line in the book: “When you’re iconic, you can never be duplicated.” Do you think anyone can try to adopt MJ’s mindset despite not having his God-given talent?

Grover: You look at all his videos, everything that he ever talks about is always about the mindset. You are not going to play basketball like Michael Jordan. There are people in the NBA that are not going to play basketball like Michael Jordan. There’s not that many people that are going to play basketball like Kobe Bryant, but you can have their mindset. And that’s what winning requires you to do. That’s why I said this book is for everyone. It’s everyone that wants to have the mindset and understand the obstacles that it takes to win every single day.

SI: Was there a moment working with MJ when you realized this guy is different from everyone else?

Grover: I had already seen that when he was playing. But the story of when I met with him and I said, “Hey, when do you want to start?” And he really said tomorrow. That already told me what he could do. He never questioned my ability, never questioned the exercises. I've never had to tell him to show up early, never had to tell him to stay late or tell him to work hard. You get all these individuals where nowadays showing up is half the battle. No, showing up is none of the battle. I never had to wake him up for a workout. He was there ready to go because he knew how difficult winning was. He knew how difficult it was going to be. He knew that winning was constantly changing the combination, and he had to figure those numbers out every single time.

SI: There is a wild story in the book when a player almost died at one of your runs that MJ was playing in and his competitive drive would not shut off.

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Grover: [Laughs.] What did he say in The Last Dance? I have a competition problem. So he was just like, “Hey, listen, are you O.K.?” and the guy said, “Yeah, I’m fine.” We had already called 911, and the paramedics were on the way. The guy was breathing. He was sitting up, and MJ said, “Great, get him off the court. I have a game to win.”

SI: What is your relationship now with MJ?

Grover: It’s extremely cordial. It’s not what it used to be. We spent 15 years seeing each other four or five days a week on a regular basis, working out at games, after games, after practice, all this other stuff. Now we have a cordial relationship. We check in with each other, make sure he’s doing good, he checks in to see if I’m good. But obviously you see how successful he is with the off-court ventures. You know the shoes are hotter than ever. You talk about an individual that really changed the way we viewed basketball and now he’s also changed the shoe game. It’s like a commodity now.

SI: Speaking about shoes, you talk about how you wore Converse to his house for your first training session with him. Did you ever make that mistake again?

Grover: [Laughs.] After our first meeting, he looked down at my feet and said, “Never again.” I said, “I gotcha.” I don’t think that he would let me back in the house if I had the Converse on again.

SI: I know you and Kobe had a close relationship, as well. Where were you when you found out about his death?

Grover: I was in Chicago, and I started to receive all these texts. And I was like, “Nah, that's not true. Someone is playing games.” Then I got a call from people that were extremely close to in his private life and they were like, this is true. This actually happened. It really froze me. I just couldn’t believe it. It literally didn’t hit me until three days later. I was sleeping, and all of a sudden I just woke up and I just was like, “He is really gone.” It was really hard because you don’t want to believe it. You just didn’t want to believe it, not only for himself but for his daughter and for everyone else. You can’t describe the feeling. The only people that could understand it are the ones that were really, really close to him.

SI: You get asked this question a million times: What is the difference between Kobe and MJ? In the book you say Kobe worked harder but MJ worked smarter. Do you think this was just a way for Kobe to try to be better than Mike, or was it just his attitude about everything else?

Grover: It was both. They knew their ways to win, and that was Kobe’s way to win. He needed to constantly outwork everyone, outstudy them, he needed to watch more film. That was the way he was brought up and that was his language of winning. When I started with him in 2007, my biggest challenge was to get him to stop. We actually got to do less. Kobe was always like, “I got to do more.” I was like, let’s see if we can propel this back just a little bit and put different things in different compartments and get you better results and having you do actually a little bit less. It was challenging, but he was open to it.

SI: MJ once told you, “I don’t pay you to train me. I pay you to not work with anyone else.” But he is the one who recommended that Kobe work with you. How would you describe their relationship?

Grover: It was competitive but very, very special. And they enjoyed that competitiveness. You know what I’ve always learned about the best athletes? They’re willing to share their information, how they did it. Kobe would talk to his teammates all the time. He would talk to players on the opposing team. Same thing with MJ. You know, they would give them the information on what it takes to be great, but they wouldn’t give them any more information until that individual actually applied it. Kobe gave you something, “Hey, this is the mentality that it takes to win.” He wanted to see you apply that mentality, see if you’re going to use it, see if you’re actually going to win with it before he answers the next question for you, because if you’re not willing to do that part, he’s going to be like, “Know what? This person really isn’t interested in winning.”

SI: What do you think about the explosion of trainers on social media? They have become celebrities in their own right, but you write in the book that this has never been your thing.

Grover: I was in a time where there wasn’t any social media. My social media was my clients talking about the work that I did. That is worth more than what you say about yourself. I have no problem with it now. Go out and get your hustle. Build your brand. But be with your clients through the good and the bad. Don’t only post things and be available when your player is playing well. You need to take the responsibility, and you need to take criticism and the feedback that comes when your client is not playing well.

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