As we hit ‘Win Like ’96’ season with the Air Jordan 11, we look at the pivotal training routine leading into 1996 that prepared Jordan and the Breakfast Club for three consecutive Championships. 

Many thanks to Warner Bros. Pictures for the never-before-seen images of Jordan training in the article below. 

He’d had enough. Not that he couldn’t take it anymore. That wasn’t the issue. The issue he confronted was his knowing that he didn’t have to… take it anymore. Fighting it the way that he had had to change. The results were the same and accepting loss was not in his DNA. Got royalty and loyalty inside. There had to be something… else.

Of all the stories told and sold of Michael Jordan’s almost unrealistic stature and legacy, this is the one least traveled. The story of his transformation. The one that began as his counterattack to the “Jordan Rules” the Detroit Pistons implemented as their Hank Schrader to his Walter White.

The story probably most important to this basketball life of his.

 

Before Jordan pulled teammates Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper and eventually Randy Brown in, he began an early morning pre-practice workout routine. Home before dawn early. Rise to shine.

“In order for MJ to be that good at what he did, he had to have a method,” teammate Harper explained. “A game plan. He took care of what he needed to do on and off the court.”

It was if Jordan said out loud in his inside voice to the basketball world: “If you don’t know who I am, then maybe the best course is to tread lightly.”

Three titles, one retirement and one legendary movie debut under his belt Jordan understood that success feeds off the power of company in much the same way misery does. So he invited teammates to his morning ritual. Harper and Pippen stuck. Thus the infamous-now-legendary Breakfast Club was birthed.

In the beginning it was all about him. He created a ritual. Treated it like a religion. A congregation of one. Jordan, personal trainer Tim Grover and Jordan’s personal chef in the full service workout facility that was the basement at Jordan’s house, created a unique, specifically targeted strength and endurance training program designed to give Mike the power to go through the Pistons, not just defeat them.

It took place hours before every practice.

“Every time I used to see the late, great Chuck Daley (Piston’s coach) I’d thank him,” Grover said. “The first time I did that he asked, ‘For what?’ And I told him, ‘Because of you I had the greatest job in the world.’” That of being the one responsible for putting in place physical and psychological goals built around strength and endurance —both physical and mental — that scientifically pushed Jordan to limits beyond any athlete the game of basketball had ever taken their bodies.

Grover further emphasized, “Michael’s mentality was, ‘Not only do I want to be able to take the physical pounding that the Pistons are dishing out but I also want to be able to give some of it back to them.’”

Historically, by many, it is considered the first start of athletes really taking strength and conditioning to a different level. And it wasn’t just about the physical, it was Jordan and his crew knowing that if they were physically stronger and better conditioned than everybody else it gave them an edge mentally and psychologically to do things at the same level and intensity in the fourth quarter of games and in overtime as they did in the first. If not better.

“It was like having a gathering every single morning of individuals for the purpose of getting them on the same page, getting them prepared,” Grover added. “You know a lot of guys now start thinking about the game when they get to the arena. With Breakfast Club, when we were working out at 5am, 6am or 7am that’s when our preparation started.”

Squats, leg extensions, weight endured step ups. No running. Banana pancakes, eggs over easy, grits, oatmeal, fresh fruit. No bullshitting.

“(The Breakfast Club) was more about Michael showing us how to preserve our bodies, (that) there’s more to just playing the game,” Randy Brown, who is often the forgotten member of TBC, said. “It taught me how to take care of my body, taught me how to eat right, I learned how to practice, I didn’t know how to practice until I got around these guys, it taught me the importance of being ready.”

“Now almost every team in the league, including us, provides food and catering but that wasn’t the case 20, 25 years ago,” Chip Schaefer, current Bulls head trainer as well as Bulls trainer at the time and the person credited with giving the ‘Breakfast Club’ its name. “The fact that Michael, Scottie and Ron got a full training session in before practice at Michael’s home was something they did that was real positive and (helped) developed camaraderie among teammates. Who’s to say how much it built into the on-court success. It starts with trust and relationships in doing things like that.”

“It started with just Michael inviting guys over to his house for breakfast early in the morning and turned into something more,” Brown says.

And as Harp put it, “When the greatest player that every played the game asks you to work at his house, you go.”

“(The) Breakfast Club was a mindset more than a workout,” Jordan himself once said in one of the few times he’s spoken publicly about it. “We wanted to be more prepared than anyone else.”

Strong emphasis on the word “we,” not “i.”

The Breakfast Club never had a scheduled day off. When the team didn’t practice the rule was Jordan, Pippen and Harper didn’t have to see Grover. Morning sessions were adjusted of course to travel, road games and playing time the night before, but other than that, the Breakfast Club never paused. According to Grover, the Breakfast Club became so embedded in Jordan, Pippen and Harper’s life routines that if they didn’t do it they’d felt as if they’d missed something.

Altruism remains the philosophy that all GOAT athletes live and die by the routines they establish. The routines and the commitments to them are, in most of the greatest athletes minds, what separates them from the mortal athletes we consider great.

Jordan had simply developed a routine unlike anyone else in sports. One effective enough to set him further apart from all others. But it remains the foresight of him to include teammates that might be one of the single smartest moves he’d ever make in his career.

Because, more than anything, more than the building of physical confidence and the removal of mental anxiety, the Breakfast Club was central to creating an on-court, in-game bound — especially between Jordan and Pippen — that not only won them three more championships, but has them historically as a duo in most people’s minds sharing the same space that MJ holds individually.

Others have tried over the years to replicate. Pippen took Grover with him to Houston to work a “version” of the Breakfast Club out with Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon, Grant Hill did the same for himself in his last years in Phoenix and countless all-world players from Kobe Bryant to LeBron James have individual strength training programs implemented into their everyday lives.

The Jordan Brand even has a simulated “Breakfast Club” workout on the top floor in its Chicago retail space that allows anyone still striving to “be like Mike” to kinda be like Mike.

And as much as all of the other specialized and individualized training has helped others, none has matched — or maybe ever will — what occurred and was created in Jordan’s basement.

When asked if Michael hadn’t brought others in to form the Breakfast Club does he think the results of basketball history would been the same, Brown didn’t fall for the hyperbole. “I think it still would have because Michael was championship or bust.”

But… “I will tell you this, Michael had in his mind what he wanted to do and what we had to accomplish and the Breakfast Club was the stepping stone to that.”

The Air Jordan 11 ‘Win Like ’96’ will be available from 10am EST on 12/9/17 at Nike.com. 

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