SI Vault
Leigh Montville
November 04, 1996
The Material Mom, His Airness and the author all have one thing in common: personal trainers
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November 04, 1996

Madonna, Michael & Me

The Material Mom, His Airness and the author all have one thing in common: personal trainers

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"The little guy is Tim Grover."

The big guy is Juwan Howard, 6'9", 23 years old, soon to be" paid $105 million to play basketball for the next seven years for-the Washington Bullets. Grover is thumping Howard in the stomach, on the back and across the ribs with a sponge-rubber cylinder mounted on a plastic stick. The contraption looks like something Moe might have invented to keep Curly in line. While Grover bangs away, Howard tries to make alternating layups and putbacks on the right and left sides of the basket, catching the ball as it falls out of the net each time.

"Concentrate," Grover says.

Thumpata. Thumpata.

"Keep your rhythm. Keep your rhythm."

This is performance training. Everything is geared toward playing basketball and enduring an NBA season. There is no feel-good, happy-time approach here. An overcoat of muscle is being added to Howard for the long athletic winter to come. The paddle simulates the bumps and pushes and whacks of NBA life. Grover is six feet tall at most. He needs an equalizer to handle the big men he trains.

"That's the challenge." he says. "To give these big guys work that will matter when they have to face other people their size. I can't do it by myself. I can't push a seven-foot man around. I can't block his shot. I need help." He has a canvas bag full of tools that he lakes to the gym every day. Among the tools, in addition to the boffo paddle, are a 15-pound basketball; a harness, which Grover uses to pull his clients backward and forward; and a basketball robot that he invented.

The robot, something like a hat rack on steroids, has three long arms that fan out. Fat metal hands are at the end of each arm. The player must shoot over the hands and be wary of the robot's midsection, which has a padded mechanism that delivers a shot to the stomach. Grover can make the robot move left and right and the arms move up and down. If he could get the thing to run up and down the court, he'd have a billion-dollar first-round draft choice. "I've spent over $50,000 building prototypes and trying to get a patent for this thing." Grover says. "I'm still working on it. Maybe it'll be on the market someday."

Grover developed his tools during seven years of almost daily workouts with Michael Jordan. He is Jordan's personal trainer. (Michael Jordan's personal trainer! Another buzz.) He equipped a gym at Jordan's old house and then a larger, state-of-the-art gym at Jordan's new house, which includes a full-sized basketball court. Grover has worked out Jordan's exercise program. From scratch.

"He hired me in 1989," says the 32-year-old Grover. "I was a trainer at the Lake Shore Athletic Club in Chicago, working with businessmen clients. Michael was coming out of the playoffs against the Detroit Pistons. He had been pushed around pretty good and had been bothered by little injuries: ankles, sprained fingers, wrists. He wanted to sec if he could find someone to help him work against that. I was friendly with the Chicago Bulls' doctor. He put Michael and me together. Michael said we'd try it for six weeks and see how it went. We're still working together."

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