As Tim Grover walked out of the Hall of Fame induction speech four years ago, the observances of Michael Jordan's old slights, the settling of old scores, had already come and gone in the trainer's mind. All those years with Jordan, and Grover understood to always be lurching toward tomorrow with the game's greatest player.
"I heard that speech differently than everybody else," Grover said. Grover heard Jordan raising the idea of playing in the NBA in his 50s, and that was all the nod he needed to begin preparations.
"If I ever get that call," Grover said, "I was going to be prepared for it. And I am."
Fifty pages inside a binder sit on Grover's desk inside his suburban Chicago home now, information and studies and research and innovations into regenerating the muscle fibers and anti-aging advances and nutrition. From his trips to Europe and Asia and the Far East, Grover has incorporated a small library of intelligence – backed with the most intimate knowledge of Jordan's body and mind and drive – to create a program that awaits the comeback of all comebacks at 50 years old.
"There's no doubt in my mind, that right now, Michael is still the best player on the Charlotte Bobcats," Grover said.
Grover had designed the comeback programs from basketball to baseball, from baseball to basketball and back again in Jordan's 40s. In a book to be released in April, "Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable," Grover finally marches the public behind the curtain of decades of work with the likes of Jordan and Kobe Bryant, a riveting read that balances the illumination of the work of those stars and how it can apply to everyone else.
For most of Jordan's and Bryant's and Dwyane Wade's careers, Grover was the guy behind the guy. For him, everything started with his work with Jordan, whose trust and belief in Grover transcended Grover's credibility with the next generation of basketball stars.
For all the discussions about why Jordan left the NBA the first time for baseball after the 1993-94 season – the suspicions that it was a gambling-related suspension – Grover says that Jordan grabbed him after the '93 title and told him to start a conditioning program to transition him to baseball.
"He sat down with Phil, and Phil talked him into coming back for another year," Grover says. "But after that '92 title, he pulled me aside and said, 'I'm done. I'm playing baseball. I spent all that summer working on the angles of baseball, and understanding what muscles are used."
And after two summers in the minor leagues, Grover would get his usual terse call from Jordan, telling him it was time to get back to work.
"I'm ready to start training," Jordan told him.
"Baseball or basketball?" Grover asked.
Looking back, Grover always wondered how differently that first season with the Wizards would've gone had those broken ribs suffered in a pick-up game had never happened. "That injury playing with Ron Artest really set us back, almost three months, I think," Grover says.
Yet, Jordan played well enough in those Wizards years to drop 40 points at 40 years old, and Grover truly wonders: Could he do 50 at 50?
That's probably asking too much – even for Jordan – but make no mistake: Grover is waiting for the call that may never come, because he believes Jordan is such a special species – such an unparalleled blend of talent and drive – that he could pull it off.
"His skill level was so superior to everyone else, his understanding of the commitment to the task so different, I absolutely believe [Jordan] playing again at 50 is obtainable," Grover said. "Of course, things have been diminished away from the game so long, but even with what's diminished by age, by not playing, I still think he's superior to a lot of the players out there now."
Deep down, Grover isn't so sure that call will ever come, because the complications of owning the Bobcats could ultimately make a return too intrusive into Jordan's business life now. All these years later, Grover still makes sure he incorporates every morsel of cutting-edge information and technology into the binder, because if Jordan ever reaches out for the comeback of all comebacks, he needs to know one truth will have never changed with the passing of the years.
"I'll be ready for him," Grover says.
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