You may not know Tim Grover.
If you've been a fan of the NBA for the past quarter-century, however, you can't help but know his work.
During that time, the Chicago-based trainer has been retained and trusted by several prominent players, including arguably the three greatest 2-guards in NBA history: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. He's authored "Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable," now available in paperback, and the upcoming "Jump Attack," a training guide with roots in his early work with Jordan, but incorporating techniques he has tweaked over time.
But, of late, his work with Wade has merited the most attention.
Last weekend, Bleacher Report caught up with Grover during one of his many recent trips to South Florida. The intent was to learn how he and his Attack Athletics team—in concert with Jay Sabol, Bill Foran and the rest of the Heat training and medical staffs—have helped get Wade back to an elite level.
"I'm an extension of what they're doing," Grover said. "I'm not a replacement for, I'm an extension to. I always tell them, if I do my job correctly, I should make your job easier. That's the whole idea. Out of all the organizations I've dealt with, this is by far the organization that is most open to me, allowing me to do my work. Miami has never made me feel like an outsider."
Here's the inside story:
The pain didn't stop when the season, or the celebration, did.
Dwyane Wade had won another championship, his third overall, his second in succession. He had done so in spite of bone bruises in his right knee that caused him to wince and limp to the finish. He didn't want to go through the same misery again. He had called upon Grover—who had helped ignite his career comeback in the summer of 2008—for occasional assistance during that 2013 stretch run, but now he wanted a more concentrated, proactive program for 2013-14.
"So he asked what my schedule was like," Grover said. "I was like, 'Hey, listen, you know I'll always fit you in. That's not a problem.'"
Grover began gathering information from the Heat's medical and training staffs, learning more about the symptoms, getting assurance that Wade wouldn't be having surgery. Then he set out on the road. To Malibu, where Wade was vacationing. To Miami, when Wade was holding his fantasy camp.
Throughout the preseason.
"We spent almost a solid eight-to-10 weeks seeing each other on a regular basis, with a little break here and there," Grover said. "And he made tons of progress. I mean, his legs got real strong. It wasn't just the knee. There was a lot of other areas in the body that just weren't working the way they were supposed to be working. And that's just because he's played so many games over the last four years. They've got to be averaging close to 100 games, with the preseason, the regular season, and the playoffs. So certain things just have a tendency to wear out. When one thing wears out and isn't working, you start to overcompensate with something else. And somebody at his age, sometimes you need somebody to pay attention to you and your needs. I think that's where I come in."
Before we get into that in more depth, and while recognizing that it's not just the knee, there's a question that must come first, because it impacted the course of action:
What was the problem with the knee, as he understood it?
Bone bruises that were hard to heal?
"Correct," Grover said. "And from what I've noticed, I told him that I think there's more going on than just a bone bruise."
Grover suspected that, if a doctor dug in, it would be a minimum of six weeks before Wade could return.
"I think he has the bone bruise, but I also think he has what's known as chondromalacia, which is an irritation behind the kneecap," Grover said, of something commonly called runner's knee. "And that's part of why he is very sensitive to the touch there. It's like having a poppyseed stuck in your tooth, it's just kind of like nagging and irritating all the time, and it's underneath the kneecap. And for a basketball player, you jump, move, cut, anytime you have a little friction that is going on behind there, it has a tendency to flare up. But we've done a pretty good job of keeping it under control lately, because he's staying on the program."
Grover hears that.
But that's not how he views it.
"I consider it a Tour de France," Grover said. "You got your stages that are extremely high, very tough, and you've got your lows. So I kind of adjust it accordingly. So you look at your schedule and you know that these games or this stretch is more important than this thing here, so we want him at a certain level here, we want him at a certain pace here, we know there's going to be a little downtime."
He knew something else was likely when the season started: that some of the mountains, early on, would feel like Everest. And that was normal. So while Heat fans were panicking as Wade missed the second game of the season in Philadelphia, Grover wasn't fazed. He had warned Wade that, for all the progress made during the offseason, the increased court time would shock the system, since "anytime you add an extra level of physical activity into the routine, your other part has a tendency to regress a little bit."
Some symptoms would return, but the process would continue, and the plan wouldn't change.
"Our goal is what it's always been, for him to be at a certain place when the season started, a certain place at the beginning of the year (2014), a certain place at the All-Star Game and another place after," Grover said. "And then our final stage will be to get him as close to 100 percent when the playoffs start."
To execute that agenda, Grover had to relinquish something:
His schedule belongs to Wade.
That is how Grover wants it.
It is all part of making Wade feel as if someone's there for every need.
"You know what, he trusts me," Grover said. "I don't work for any organization. I work for the player. I have no other job but just to get him right. I don't have to worry about contracts, I don't have to worry about free agents, I don't have to worry about the next guy on a 10-day. This is it. My sole focus is to get him as healthy and playing at the highest level he can, and the rest of that stuff, those guys have to deal with. I think he understands he can talk to me, and tell me things, because I have seen his game evolve."
Grover has seen a lot of him lately, flying to Miami for the last few long homestands.
"If a camera crew followed us around all week, they would run out of film," Grover said.
On the day of a night game, Grover heads over to Wade's house in the morning for treatment, mild stretching, anything physical or psychological that he believes Wade requires. Once at the arena, Wade gets his work in—sometimes shots, sometimes not—as the training staff attends to much of his preparation. But about five or six minutes prior to Wade racing out of the tunnel, Grover will perform "some quick muscle-activation stuff with him and make sure all of his muscles are working correctly, so the impact on his knee will be less." The training staff then makes any halftime adjustments, often including re-taping. Wade's work isn't complete when the game is; the contrast tub, hot tub and stimulation are all part of the regular routine.
The next day?
Well, if there's no game, Grover waits to hear when Wade wants to work out.
Saturday, it was prior to practice.
Sometimes, it's as late as 10:30 at night, after Wade has spent time with his kids.
"I don't care what time he does it, he's just got to make sure he gets it in," Grover said. "And we'll spend everywhere between two and two and a half hours on a non-gameday going through the whole regimen, making sure everything is where it should be."
That includes a certain stubborn joint.
"It's understanding how the knee aligns, why it is doing the things it is doing and how to prevent," Grover said. "Right now, we would say it's a tracking issue. His kneecap, it's supposed to track straight. Sometimes, when he gets tired, sometimes it's going in, sometimes it's going out, and that's where the irritation happens. So you work everything to try to keep the kneecap from shifting back and forth. So he has a group of exercises that he's got to do on a regular basis, and then we have some power movements that I like for him to do to keep his strength and explosiveness up. So you have the foundation, but then you also have a few different things that you like to add, and progress, as the season goes on, and make sure that he's continuing to improve."
And that he understands what matters.
Most Wade observers have obsessed about his availability, specifically whether he plays on both ends of back-to-backs, something he's now done three times this season.
"It really doesn't matter to me, because the whole way the program is set up is for him to excel in the playoffs," Grover said.
When there won't be back-to-backs.
"I knew, at some point, he'd be able to do that," Grover said. "And it's a good mark to see, OK, he's making progress. But that really wasn't something that was extremely important to me."
What makes the back-to-back challenging?
"It's the recovery time and you can't get the necessary rest and treatment that you need on that off day," Grover said. "But as the knee's gotten more stable and it's gotten stronger, and the treatment from the beginning of the year to now has continued to evolve, it's going to allow the knee to do more things and allow it to recover more."
Grover had a different scheduling concern.
"I think the hardest adjustment for him now is not even back-to-backs, it's going to be adjusting to the different times the games are at," he said. "The thing that I was most pleased about than anything else, was his performance in the Chicago game (on March 9), which was played at noon. The way he came out in that first quarter. That to me was more important, because that dictates more of what the playoff schedule is going to be like. You have a break between the games, but if you have a weekend game, you might be in at 3:30."
At least in the first two rounds, before the conference finals and NBA Finals are played at night.
"To me, if I had to look at something, that was more important than the back-to-back," Grover said of afternoon games.
The day after this interview, Wade scored 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting against the Houston Rockets.
That game started at 3:30 p.m.
Meaning that, when it comes to this challenge, Wade appears right on time.
It wasn't just fans who have had back-to-backs on their mind.
Apparently, Wade did, too.
That, and other things.
Grover said that's one of the things they have discussed, which he believed was as much a mental as physical obstacle. The trainer has set out to clear as many such obstacles as possible for his protege.
"Since I've had such a good relationship with him all these years, going back to the pre-draft days, he's comfortable telling me things that he may not feel comfortable telling others," Grover said. "Or I can tell him things as an outsider that he knows it's not personal—it's something I've viewed, it's directed to him and it's got nothing to do with the organization. And he may say, 'Hey, you're totally off base.' We'll have a little discussion back and forth. But it's just getting him to understand that he still has the ability to do what he used to be able to do."
When he was at the top of the sport.
"My biggest thing was I didn't like when he kept saying, 'I'm 32. I'm old," Grover said. "If you think and tell yourself that you're old, then you're fighting a battle that I don't need you to be fighting. The mind tells the body what to do; the body doesn't tell the mind. But when things don't feel good, you do feel old. But now when things start to work again, and the body is starting to feel good, now the mind starts to come along."
The mental side requires multifaceted, ongoing attention.
For instance, Grover puts Wade through a series of strenuous jumping exercises—off one leg, off two legs, on one leg, on the other—so that the player understands that nothing he does in the game will be even 50 percent as taxing or treacherous.
"So if nothing happens here, the chances of anything happening out on the court—unless it's a freakish accident—it won't happen," Grover said.
Grover also wants Wade to understand that as good things start happening with his body, it might not directly translate to great things in the box score. In Friday's loss to Denver, Wade made only 8-of-18 shots, fine work for an ordinary work, but below his norms of late. Grover saw it as the law of averages imposing itself, but also as an opportunity to review the program.
Did something in the routine throw Wade's rhythm off?
"But then I was looking at it—even though he was missing easy shots, he was able to get wherever he wanted to on the floor," Grover said. "So from that aspect, that was a huge plus for us. All right, now he's starting to move at a pace that we're used to seeing Dwyane move, so if that continues to happen, there is going to be a little adjustment in how he's going to make his shots, because he just hasn't been moving at that speed. So you look at it from both sides. Did I do something wrong from a training side? Or wait a minute, are these results going in the direction we want them to go in?"
They talked it out together.
"When we did the routine, did something not feel right?" Grover said. "He says, 'No, everything felt good. I just missed easy shots.' So then we start talking about the mental part of it. OK, this is what happened, this is what's going on, we know it's an adjustment."
It's an adjustment for Wade to return to what he was. In a recent interview with Bleacher Report, Wade spoke of feeling more like an "instinctive player" of late. During this interview, Grover echoed all the same sentiments.
"Dwyane's an instinctive player, his game is a lot of instincts," Grover said. "When you're injured, you start to think more. 'Well, if I do this move, I don't know if I'm going to be able to get there'…He started the season, he was more of a reaction player. Now he's starting to trust his instincts. Now what I want him to do in the playoffs is I want him to get back to what makes him so special, is that when his instincts trust him, where it's totally not thinking. Left hand, right hand, be able to cut, do whatever he wants to do."
Grover has watched some of Wade's old films and compared them to the current ones.
"You are starting to see some of the moves that he used to do," Grover said. "I mean, he's not jumping and dunking like he's capable of doing."
Saturday, Grover told Wade he should have dunked a couple more times the night before.
"But that's something that will come," Grover said. "Because if he's confident enough to know that he can get to the rim, then the next step is, 'OK, now I'll just finish it.' Because he's still thinking, 'If I go up and power these two or three dunks down, how am I going to feel the next day?' And I'm saying, 'Listen, you'll be fine."
Wade has been better than fine of late.
He's been brilliant.
"He's getting to the basket," Grover said. "He's able to change direction. And his elevation is really starting to come up. And anytime you start to be able to jump a little higher and better than you have the past few years, there's a lot of adjustment that needs to be made on your shot and the way you move and so forth."
Even so, since the All-Star break, one of Grover's markers, Wade is shooting 56.1 percent from the floor, while averaging 21.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists.
Grover credits much of that to Wade's diligence, resilience, persistence.
"He has been extremely consistent with it," Grover said. "From a timing standpoint, I can't see anyone who would not be pleased with where he's at. I don't think anybody realizes what it takes for him to play at a very high level, and the work that he has to put in to keep this thing under control. Because it's something that comes and goes. One small move can irritate the knee again. So if everyone got a chance to really see how much time he spends with them and also with me, they would know that he's relentless in his pursuit to get (ring) No. 4 for him."
Even after the losses, Grover's been encouraged.
"His body language and the way he's taking these losses is exactly like I want him to be from a mental standpoint," he said. "You've always got to have this little bitter taste of defeat in your mouth, and I'm starting to see more and more of that from Dwyane. Because they have a chance to do something very special this year. And you know the opportunities don't come around. They put a special team together to try to do something that hasn't been done in a while."
As Wade tries to do it, Grover will spend plenty more time in South Florida. When they're not together, they'll talk and text, as was the case just before the All-Star break. That's when Grover pressured Wade for an answer about how much, and how passionately, he would play in the All-Star Game, so the program could be adjusted accordingly. As it turned out, Wade played just 12 minutes, made 5-of-6 shots, and got out. He had bigger goals in mind.
And so does Grover. It's all about the postseason.
Will Wade be 100 percent by then?
"I don't think any player is ever 100 percent," Grover said. "But I take the old adage that Michael used to say, that, 'If I step out on the basketball court, and I put on my uniform, then I'm 100 percent.' He said, 'If you're not, you shouldn't be playing.' The mindset, whether you physically are at 80 percent, 90 percent, whatever it was, mentally you have to be 100 percent. And that's one of the goals, when Dwyane's in the playoffs. Hey listen, you're 100 percent, that's it."
After all, as Grover noted, if there were anything he or the team could do to help him in May or June, they would have done it in October or November.
"This is it," Grover repeated. "Just go out there, do what you are capable of doing."
To try to reach the Heat's ultimate goal.
"Look, my goal is the same as the team goal," said Grover, the Chicago resident with long ties to the Bulls. "They should win the NBA Finals. And he should be an extremely integral part of it."
Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.
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