Michael Jordan’s phone rings – it’s Kobe. As we learned at the memorial, this wasn’t unusual. Any time of night or day, if Kobe had a question, he would call Mike. This time it was serious. Kobe told MJ – “My knees are killing me.” Jordan knew who to recommend; Tim Grover was “his guy.”
It was 2008. Kobe was 30 years old, and still had a lot to achieve in the NBA. If you asked Kobe when he would retire, his answer was “after no.7.” He didn’t contemplate his career in terms of years, Bryant was counting rings and wanted to get one more than Mike. For someone as athletic who never had a serious knee injury, so much knee pain was very problematic.
Grover and Kobe decided to work together, and the first step was to have everyone on the same page. The team trainer, massage therapist, doctor – every person had their point of view and goals (with the ultimate to get most of the credit). That approach had to stop, and there could be only one captain.
“When I came in, I told Kobe. If I’m gonna do this, I have to be the person in charge.”Tim Grover, GQ Sports
Kobe agreed. That didn’t mean Grover wanted anyone to get fired, Bryant could continue working with everybody but had to follow his plan and philosophy. With those terms agreed, it was time to diagnose the problem. That’s the least surprising part of this story. Kobe was doing too much. At 30 years old, Bryant already had 13 years of NBA under his belt. Grover’s main goal was to make Kobe understand that he is in a different stage of his career.
“It’s hard to understand that sometimes you have to do less to get more.”Tim Grover, GQ Sports
Athleticism implies two things – acceleration and deceleration. Kobe was overworking his acceleration ability (concentric contractions), which shortens the muscles and neglecting his deceleration ability (eccentric contractions), which lengthen the muscles. Because of that, every time he would land, change direction, etc. the muscles couldn’t take the load, so the cartilage and bones did. Thirteen years of that left its toll.
“We totally took the concentric phase out of his training.”Tim Grover, GQ Sports
Such a training regiment required a lot of creativity. To boil it down, Grover (and a few others when needed) would lift the weight, and Kobe would only do the negative part of the motion. With time, that would elongate the muscles and relieve the pressure on Kobe’s knees. The process of lengthening your muscles is a lot more painful, and that’s where Mamba came in.
“One thing you know about Kobe; this guy’s pain tolerance was off the charts.”Tim Grover, GQ Sports
In the next two years, Kobe led the Lakers all the way and won two NBA Finals MVP awards. Grover always points out that someone’s physical training and recovery, the same as the game of basketball, is a team sport. Still, it can’t be denied Kobe played some of his best basketball after he started to work with “MJ’s guy.”