At age 18, Jasper Bibbs tore his ACL, effectively ending his chances of playing college basketball. The Lansing, MI, native was unable to afford the proper physical therapy to be able to return to play. Instead of allowing frustration over his athletic career coming to an end, Bibbs began going to the library and studying rehabilitation programs. He discovered a new passion in biomechanics, sports medicine and sports performance.
In his junior year at Western Michigan University, Bibbs began researching careers in sports medicine and performance in the NBA. He began sending off handwritten letters to all of the strength coaches letting them know his desire of one day joining the profession.
Bibbs finally received a response when Bill Foran, the strength and conditioning coach for the Miami Heat, got back to him and directed him to the NBA Strength Coaches Symposium during the 2014 NBA Combine in Chicago. He quickly established a connection with then Detroit Pistons head strength coach Anthony Harvey. From there, Toronto Raptors strength and conditioning coach Jon Lee also saw how dedicated and serious Bibbs was and gave an opportunity to volunteer during their pre-draft workouts.
Whatever it Takes to Get the Job Done
Bibbs made the five-hour drive from Lansing to Toronto to go through what he thought would be a day of getting his feet wet. With enough gas in his tank to make it back home that evening, Lee told Bibbs, “Great job! See you tomorrow morning.” Bibbs was conflicted. Here he was with an opportunity he had been dreaming about, but he had no one he could stay with. He ended up sleeping in his car for over a month while continuing to soak up all the knowledge he could.
Hygiene was taken care of at the practice facility—he even used fast-food restaurant bathrooms on occasions. Lee and the Raptors didn’t know of Bibbs’ circumstances until the last day. “I was just so grateful to be there,” said Bibbs. “I just knew that was everything I wanted and I was afraid they would send me home for not having the proper housing situation.”.
Bibbs would complete his degree, becoming the first in his family to do so. To date, he has worked with various professional athletes across all sports. He’s worked under longtime Utah Jazz sports performance coach Mark McKown, and more so recently with New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson while the star rehabbed from a foot injury during the 2021-22 season and up until the beginning of last season.
Bibbs story is one that is continuing to be wrote and along the way, he wants to be an inspiration to those who have a dream but might not have discovered their true love and calling. He spoke with M&F on what kept him going during those nights of sleeping in his car away from home, his approach to working with athletes, the challenges of executing during the NBA season and why the journey is the most important aspect of reaching the destination.
Answering His Calling
Nobody wants to have their dreams crushed and be told, you may not be able to play the sport you want to play anymore. Being someone who loved the sport of basketball and then tearing my ACL without having any prior knowledge that I was predisposed to having an athletic injury — I knew it was my calling to learn as much as I could to give back the knowledge to help the next athlete from having their dreams crushed.
I think when you’ve been called to do something, there’s really no need for an explanation on why. It was also coming from family, where nobody in my family had ever graduated college. I was still in college at that time and I had to see it through. I had a deep desire to be able to learn at that level. Level. Obviously, the NBA is a dream come true in any facet. Getting to that level of professionalism is everybody’s goal and dream. Just being there inside those walls, there wasn’t any excuses that were going to be made. I was just fortunate to be given the opportunity as a young kid from Lansing, Michigan. I just had to show up every day and do my best.
That’s what continued to push and drive me during that time. Obviously, you don’t want to let your family down or your peers. If I would have gave up or went home, I’d be doing a disservice to all the future players that I currently work with now.
Knowing Your Client Inside and Out
First and foremost is taking someone’s injury history and understanding who the athlete is. Ultimately, it’s designing and implementing a safe and effective sport specific strength and conditioning program. It’s going to be based on the most up-to-date research and science for NBA athletes, and that’s a forever-evolving skill. There’s no cookie cutter or one-size-fits-all program or exercise routine that’s going to deliver effective results.
You have high-minute players, starters, max players, role players, reserves who may not play for five or six games. However, they may be called to play down the stretch in a crucial game due to foul trouble, ejections or illness. Within those tiers, you have players of all ages and levels of experience. Within those demographics, you have different styles of play and different roles that need to be addressed based on organization’s desires for that athlete, and then within that, what is their genetic predisposed body type? Are they an ectomorph, mesomorph endomorph? What are their limitations based on their skeletal structure, hip mobility, ankle mobility, thoracic mobility? And then how do these play into their movement patterns?
All of these are factors on how I design effective sports performance, sports specific training, conditioning programs. But ultimately, diving deep into their injury history will tell you a lot about the athlete. The best predictor of future injury is prior injury and then how do we prevent this from happening. That’s where the sports science data collection is vital and using that data you collected in terms of the daily, weekly, and monthly load—your force plate testing, asymmetries, heart rate monitoring for cardiovascular endurance levels. Those are used to design a daily regimen of soft tissue work, stretching, lengthening, treatment, corrective exercise, injury prevention techniques, weightlifting and cardio programs.
The Travel Is No Joke
One of the biggest surprises was the amount of travel during a season and how do you implement everything that you do at home with the modalities and resources available to you on the road through an 82-game season and be able to keep guys healthy and improve during that in-season portion. I didn’t have a grasp on how much travel was involved. You may have a home and away, back to back, where you’re playing that night and you’re packing up right from the locker room, getting on a bus to go to the plane. You’re leaving at 11 p.m. and you’re getting to the next city at 3 a.m. and you have a game that night. You have to help prepare guys and have them ready to play.
They need to be able to show up and perform. Just doing that for 82 games a year while you have still have a real life. Just understanding the dynamic of how much travel is involved in season is something that I was not aware of before working in the NBA.
Every Athlete Wants to Be the Best
Every athlete desires to be be the best they possibly can be. I think our job is to help give them the tools to be able to be the best athlete they can be. Without the player, there is no profession and our job is to cater to them and help them become their best. That includes helping with nutritional discipline, implementing injury prevention programs, and strength training programs. It’s also about being an example and a mentor to your athlete. I think that’s just as important as the knowledge and credentials you have.
You can have the best program in the world, but if you’re not able to implement it or get the athlete to do it, then it’s not worth anything. Establishing that level of trust and a way to to effectively communicate and connect with an athlete is everything. Great athletes want to be coached and want to learn. For you to take on that responsibility as that mentor and to be able to provide fruitful advice and guidance is not only going to take you further in your career, but also going to help the athlete get further in theirs.
Being able to connect with athletes from all walks of life on a human level has been one of the most important driving points for being able to implement a sports science data collection, an injury prevention technique, movement assessments, strength training programs, pregame, post-game work and also nutritional advice.
Words of Advice from Jasper Bibbs
Consistent work toward a goal will ultimately help you achieve that goal. Whether it’s on your your time or on God’s time. Don’t give up on those goals. Sometimes the direct path is not direct. Sometimes, you may need to go around, over, or under, but you’ll reach the destination. Everybody’s path is different. I’ve had players who were drafted after one year college, and then I’ve had players who played four years of college, went overseas, got a training camp invite, made the team and then became a starter and played more minutes than guys that were drafted after one year.
Everybody’s path to their goal may not always be linear, but if you just keep consistent with your work ethic, your motivation and handle your responsibilities in life. You responsibilities as far as being a good person, doing the right thing, serving others and helping uplift others — I think accumulation of all those things are going to be pertinent for you to reach your goals.