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MADONNA, MICHAEL & ME
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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Grover put together exercises for Jordan's fingers using rubber bands and bowls of uncooked rice. He designed exercises for Jordan's ankles and wrists. Jordan had never lifted weights in his life. Grover came up with a set of exercises in which Jordan lifted weights, concentrating on the muscles he needed for basketball. Everything was geared toward playing that one sport and surviving.

"You're looking to do different things in different sports," Grover says. "Take baseball. When you throw a baseball, you're trying for a low, flat trajectory. You want to get that ball from one place to another as fast as possible. In basketball it's totally different. You're looking to throw up a shot with a high trajectory. Different muscles. That's why, when Michael came back from baseball, he had problems. We'd been working different muscles. Even he was surprised. He thought it would be a lot easier. I told him it was going to take a year, and it did. Different muscles.

"Do you know all those stories that said Michael had been planning to come back to basketball way before he did? They're just not true. He hadn't done one basketball exercise until a week before he came back. I think, honestly, if there hadn't been a baseball strike, he'd still be playing baseball, and he'd be in the major leagues. Baseball wasn't just something he thought about in a minute. After the Bulls won their second championship, he asked me to prepare a baseball program. He was ready to go a year earlier than he did. I think the Bulls" management and his father talked him out of it. He worked very hard for baseball."

Grover, a onetime point guard at Illinois-Chicago, was part of Jordan's baseball adventure. He moved to Birmingham with Jordan. He lived in Jordan's six-bedroom rented house. He went to Sarasota, Fla., with Jordan for the Birmingham Barons' spring training camp. He worked with his client daily. Just as he does when Jordan plays basketball.

During the NBA season Grover works almost exclusively with Jordan. They do basketball exercises and basic exercises, and they lift weights. They run. Jordan weighed 190 pounds, with an amazing 3% body fat, when he started with Grover. He now weighs 215 but still has only 3% body fat. The extra pounds are muscle. "I think he was the first superstar athlete to have his own trainer," Grover says. "Now there are a lot. It's logical. A professional basketball player, even on the days he practices, has maybe 21½ hours off. His biggest asset is his body. Can't he work two more hours on his body? Even then he still has all that time off, and he isn't going to have to do this stuff once his career is over. Don't you think any athlete would work this way?"

During the early part of this summer, after leading the Bulls through 108 games to another NBA title, Jordan took time off to heal. He headed for the golf course. Grover trained other basketball players. He saw each of them for two hours daily, devoting the first hour to exercise on the court and the second hour to the weight machines. His clients included 19% draft picks Priest Lauderdale of the Atlanta Hawks, Amal McCaskill of the Orlando Magic and Antoine Walker of the Boston Celtics; second-year man Sherell Ford of the Seattle SuperSonics; and Howard. Most of them worked with Grover during the day, then played in pickup basketball leagues at night.

"I wanted to work with Tim when I was a senior in high school," Howard says. "I'd read about him in some paper, and then I saw him working with Michael at a gym in Chicago. I figured, if Michael uses him, then maybe I should too. Right? I talked with Tim and found out, first of all, that I couldn't afford him, and second, that I was too young. He wanted my body to mature before I started working with weights. As soon as I got drafted, I could afford him."

Howard says this between bench-press sets in the Multiplex gym. I le sits on a machine while a middle-aged man grunts on the next machine and a woman in tights stares at herself in a full-length mirror. Grover, a compact man with a weightlifter's chest, checks a watch. He favors fast repetitions rather than the usual slow lifting. Basketball workouts for basketball muscles. Howard will be tired by the time this workout is done.

"You always use a public gym?" I ask.

"It's O.K. during the day—not too many people," Grover says. "I use public gyms with Michael, too, on the road during the season. We use a different gym each time. I don't want a crowd waiting for us. I don't call ahead. We just show up, pay whatever the fee is, do our workout and go home. The playoffs in Seattle this year? We went to five different gyms during that week."

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