Even if you prefer a more modern player like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, no basketball fan can ignore Michael Jordan’s place in NBA history. During his time on the hardwood, His Airness dominated the competition and literally changed the game. In the late 1980s, though, things could have worked out somewhat differently.
In 1989, Jordan saw a letter in a teammate’s locker and decided to reach out to the man who wrote it. That turned out to be none other than Tim Grover, who would help MJ become a living legend.
Michael Jordan wasn’t always an NBA star
These days, it’s virtually impossible to imagine His Airness as anything other than a fearsome force of nature. Jordan, however, wasn’t always a star.
While MJ was born in Brooklyn, he didn’t exactly have a silver spoon in his mouth. The family moved to North Carolina shortly after he was born and, in the south, he ate dirt for dessert and clashed with the family pigs.
Even from a sporting perspective, Jordan didn’t always seem destined for greatness. While the stories about him being cut from the team aren’t exactly true, he did fail to make his high school’s varsity squad at the first attempt. Even when he grew into a McDonald’s All-American, MJ fell short of the USA Mr. Basketball title.
In college, the same pattern emerged. Jordan showed plenty of talent and even hit the NCAA championship-winning shot as a freshman but didn’t always impress Dean Smith. The veteran coach, for example, branded his young guard as inconsistent during his early days on campus.
Answering someone else’s letter and teaming up with Tim Grover
For any potential flaws, though, Jordan always had an incredible competitive drive. In 1989, that reality inspired him to take things to the next level and hire trainer Tim Grover. The two met men, however, didn’t exactly meet under normal circumstances.
After graduating from college, Grover decided that he wanted to work with individual basketball players rather than taking a job with a team. In the days before email and cell phones, he started reaching out in the easiest way possible: letters.
“I actually wrote letters to all the players on the Chicago Bulls organization,” he explained in a GQ Sports interview. “I wrote 14 letters to 14 different players. There are 15 players on a basketball team. The one person I did not write the letter to was Michael Jordan.”
While none of those players ever responded, Grover did receive a call from the Bulls’ trainer saying that someone wanted to meet him. It was Jordan, who had apparently seen a letter in one of his teammate’s lockers. From there, the rest is history.
Michael Jordan changed basketball history by answering that letter
In a recent Sports Illustrated interview, Jarrell Harris asked Grover if he ever considered how NBA history could have been very different if he didn’t send those 14 letters to the Bulls. While the trainer downplayed his role — he insisted that Jordan would have been a legend with or without him — he did make an impact.
As basketball fans know, Jordan would have the vast majority of his success while working with Grover, including his six NBA championships. Even if you want to argue that MJ would have had the raw talent to win those on his own, his trainer deserves some credit for keeping the star fit and healthy over the years.
To some extent, Grover even said that himself. In the GQ video, he noted that MJ was susceptible to groin pulls and ankle injuries. Consequently, the two focused on avoiding those issues and keeping the guard playing shape. The veteran trainer also made a similar comment in the SI interview, saying, “I helped him with the ability to stay there at that championship level a little bit longer. That was my role.”
Even looking beyond Jordan’s success, though, Grover’s work with MJ laid the seeds for him to start training Kobe Bryant. Again, the LA Lakers’ star possessed plenty of raw talent, but it’s reasonable to believe that his training regimen helped him push to the next level.
Under normal circumstances, reading someone else’s mail probably isn’t the best idea. If not for Jordan’s nosiness, though, NBA history could have turned out differently.