Tim Grover’s resume is the stuff of legends.
Grover, the CEO of Attack Athletics, has called Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and countless other client superstars. He is now a best-selling author. After releasing your first book, Relentless, ruthless, eight years ago, he’s back with a new one, W1nning, who shares stories about Jordan and Bryant’s competitive mindset.
Illustrated Sports spoke to Grover about his new book, working with Jordan and Bryant, and much more.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Illustrated Sports: Relentless, ruthless it was a success. Take me behind the concept of your new book, W1nning.
Tim Grover: Well, W1nning is an extension of Relentless, ruthless. Relentless, ruthless it was the mentality of the ultimate competitors. That mindset isn’t for everyone, but W1nning it’s for everyone. We all want to win, the ability to win is in everyone. Winning is everywhere. Every moment we have a chance to win and with everything we’ve been 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 glamor. It’s not about the glory. It’s not about 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 in the end, and that’s what I want to explain in this book.
SI: One of my favorite parts of the book is when he explains how he first connected with Jordan. When you were looking for clients, you sent 14 letters to all the Bulls players besides him, and he saw your note on another player’s locker and came over to work with you. Do you ever look back at that moment and say to yourself, “If I hadn’t sent these letters, the NBA as we know it would have been different”?
Grover: Well, I know my life would not have been the same. But listen, I always say this, right? MJ would have been the best basketball player with me or without me. I don’t take credit for that. I helped him stay there a little longer. That’s where my role was in this. MJ would have been very successful. I still would have had all the accolades. I did not start with him at the beginning of his professional career. I started with him in ’89. So I’ll never say, “Hey, I’m the reason 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 from the book: “When you are iconic, you can never be duplicated.” Do you think anyone can try to adopt MJ’s mindset despite not having the God-given talent?
Grover: You watch all his videos, everything he talks about is always about mindset. You’re not going to play basketball like Michael Jordan. There are people in the NBA who are not going to play basketball like Michael Jordan. Not many people go to play basketball like Kobe Bryant, but you can have their way of thinking. And that’s what it requires you to do to win. That is why I said that this book is for everyone. They are all who want to have the mindset and understand the obstacles it takes to win every day.
SI: Was there a time working with MJ where you realized that this guy is different from everyone else?
Grover: He had already seen that when he played. But the story of when I met him and said, “Hey, when do you want to start?” And he actually said tomorrow. That already told me what to do. He never questioned my ability, he never questioned the exercises. I never had to tell him to be early, I never had to tell him to stay up late or to work hard. You get all these guys where showing up today is half the battle. No, showing up is not part of the battle. I never had to wake him up to exercise. He was ready to go out because he knew how difficult it was to win. He knew how difficult it was going to be. He knew that winning constantly changed the combination, and he had to figure out those numbers every time.
SI: There is a wild story in the book when a player almost died in one of your races where MJ was playing and his competitive drive was not quenched.
Grover: [Laughs.] What did he say in The last Dance? I have a competition problem. So he was like, “Hey, listen, are you okay?” And the boy said, “Yes, I’m fine.” We had already called 911 and paramedics were on their way. The guy was breathing. He was sitting down 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 is 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, training in games, after games, after practice, all these other things. We now have a cordial relationship. We contact each other, we make sure he’s okay, he checks if I’m okay. But obviously you see how successful he is with off-court adventures. You know that shoes are hotter than ever. You speak of an individual who really changed the way we viewed basketball and now also changed the shoe game. It is like a commodity now.
SI: Speaking of shoes, you talk about how you used Converse at his house for your first training session with him. Did you ever make that mistake again?
Grover: [Laughs.] After our first meeting, he looked at my feet and said, “Never again.” I said, “I have you.” I don’t think he would let me go home if I was wearing the Converse again.
SI: I know that you and Kobe also had a close relationship. Where were you when you learned of his death?
Grover: I was in Chicago and I started getting all these text messages. And I was like, “No, that’s not true. Someone is playing. “Then I got a call from people who were very close in their private lives and they said, this is true. This really 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 woke up and said, “He’s really gone.” It was very difficult because you don’t want to believe it. You just didn’t want to believe it, not just for him, but for his daughter and for everyone else. You can’t describe the feeling. The only people who could understand him were those who were very, very close to him.
SI: They ask you this question a million times: What is the difference between Kobe and MJ? In the book you say that Kobe worked harder but MJ worked smarter. Do you think this was just a way that Kobe tried to be better than Mike, or was it just his attitude over everything else?
Grover: It was both. They knew their ways of winning, and that was Kobe’s way of winning. He needed to constantly work harder than everyone else, to get over them in the studio, he needed to see more movies. That was the way he was educated and that was his winning language. When I started with him in 2007, my biggest challenge was getting him to stop. In fact, we have to do less. Kobe always said, “I have to do more.” I was like, let’s see if we can push this back a little bit and put different things in different compartments and get better results and have it actually do a little less. It was a challenge, but he was open to it.
Y: MJ once told you: “I don’t pay you to train me. I pay you not to work with anyone else. “But he is the one who recommended that Kobe work with you. How would you describe your relationship?
Grover: It was competitive but very, very special. And they enjoyed that competitiveness. Do you know what I have always learned about the best athletes? They are willing to share their information, how they did it. Kobe talked to his teammates all the time. He was talking to players on the opposing team. Same with MJ. You know, they would give them the information on what it takes to be great, but they wouldn’t give them more information until that person actually applied it. Kobe gave you something, “Hey, this is the mindset it takes to win.” I wanted to see you apply that mindset, see if you’re going to use it, see if you’re really going to win before I answer the next question, because if you’re not willing to do that part, it’s going to be like, “You know what? This person is not really interested in winning. “
SI: What do you think about the explosion of coaches 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 when there were no social networks. My social networks were my clients talking about the work I did. That is worth more than what you say about yourself. I have no problem with that now. Get out there and get your hustle. Build your brand. But be with your customers through thick and thin. Don’t just post stuff and be available when your player is playing well. You must take responsibility and accept the criticism and feedback that comes when your customer is not playing well.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.