How Meyers Leonard Built a Squad of Health and Training Experts to Strengthen His NBA Career
LOS ANGELES -- Meyers Leonard couldn’t figure it out. Neither could anyone else who had looked at the Portland Trail Blazers big man’s right quad. The muscle had given him trouble before and was once again dragging him down—this time, in 2018, in the middle of his intense offseason regimen in LA.
So Meyers stopped by LA Main Physical Therapy in Beverly Hills to see Fabrice Gautier. The renowned physical therapist and European osteopath had previously helped him recover from serious issues in his shoulder and back.
Rather than use his “magic hands” to massage Meyers’ quad, Fabrice reached up to check his jaw.
“[Meyer’s] TMJ was a little bit tight,” Fabrice tells CloseUp360 inside his office. “We had something there.”
He had a hunch that the quad problem might be related to Meyers’ dental occlusion—that is, the way his teeth did (or didn’t) align upon contact. To find out if that was the case, Fabrice sent him to Dr. Daniel Naysan, a dentist at the Bedford Dental Group in Beverly Hills who, like Fabrice, tended to think outside the box.
A scan of Meyers’ mouth revealed a misalignment in his bite related to some earlier dental work he'd had done.
“It wasn't so much that he felt it, but it was off,” Daniel says. “And so when it was off, it was throwing off his bite and, at the same time, causing pain that went up and also subsequently—interestingly enough—down.”
To address the issue, Dr. Naysan replaced some of Meyers’ fillings and adjusted his bite. When the scan came back clean, he sent Meyers home with an occlusal splint, a special mouth guard to wear at night and protect his teeth during games.
And the quad pain?
“It went away, just like that,” Meyers says, with a snap of his fingers.
“Chance is also part of it,” Fabrice adds. “Luck is also part of the whole thing.”
Nowadays, Fabrice and Daniel are important players on what Meyers calls his “Dream Team,” alongside his strength trainer, skills trainer, nutritionist and—of course—his wife, Elle. With their help, the 27-year-old from tiny Robinson, Illinois is (and has been) pouring his time, effort and money into improving his present health, with an eye towards solidifying his future in the NBA.
“I'm, at heart, like a blue collar guy, coming from a small town,” Meyers says, “and I'm willing to put the work in, but I need the right people around me to suggest what's going to be best for me.”
Meyers Leonard with Dr. Daniel Naysan. (Courtesy of Meyers Leonard)
In the summer of 2016, Meyers signed a four-year, $41 million extension to stay in Portland. It was a big step up for the former lottery pick in 2012—a commitment that signaled the Blazers’ desire to keep grooming him as a part of the team’s long-term future.
But rather than ride that salary bump to the next level, his on-court performance suffered. Amid a rocky return from shoulder surgery, emerging discomfort in his back and persistent fatigue, Meyers’ playing time (and production) dropped precipitously, almost across the board.
This, despite Meyers’ commitment to intense training to ostensibly improve his strength and conditioning.
“I just didn't play well and I felt horrible,” he says. “Everything was just all out of whack.”
During the 2016-17 season, Meyers started seeking help. His wife had been working with Gunnar Peterson, a Los Angeles-based celebrity trainer who would be hired by the Lakers to serve as their director of strength and endurance in the summer of 2017. After hearing of Meyers’ struggles, Gunnar referred him to Dr. Philip Goglia, the founder of Performance Fitness Concepts and a nutritionist in Santa Monica to star athletes and actors like Kevin Love, Christian Bale, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt and Khloe Kardashian.
In December 2016, while the Blazers were in LA to play the Clippers, Meyers went to meet with Dr. Goglia.
“The first conversation was, ‘Hey Meyers, your training and all that crap you do, do you think it makes you strong or it makes you weak?’” Dr. Goglia recalls. “And he said, ‘Well, it makes you strong.’ And I said, ‘Eh! Wrong, pal. It makes you weak.’”
As Dr. Goglia would explain to Meyers then (and to CloseUp360 now), all that training he was doing, in addition to the basketball he was playing, was breaking his body down. Without the proper diet and rest, his body wasn’t able to recover, let alone build back up to an even greater degree.
“You get stronger in your kitchen and bedroom,” Dr. Goglia says. “That was a real epiphany to him.”
According to Dr. Goglia, Meyers, at that point, was consuming about 2,800 calories per day from three square meals and the occasional protein bar.
“All's I ate was chicken and rice,” Meyers quips. “It was crazy.”
Fortunately, as revealed by a battery of tests—including a lipid profile and evaluations of his HbA1c (a form of hemoglobin that binds to glucose) and hematocrit (the volume of red blood cells in his blood)—Meyers was found to process fats, carbohydrates and proteins equally well. Which is to say, his body was well equipped for a comeback.
Dr. Goglia’s prescription? A food plan that typically included a spoonful apiece of almond butter and jam before his morning workout; a massive breakfast (a cup of oatmeal, two pieces of fruit and anywhere from 4 to 10 eggs, depending on the consumption of a whey protein shake); a mid-morning snack; two lunches (for a combined cup and a half of starch, 16 ounces of chicken “flesh” and two servings of vegetables); two afternoon snacks; dinner centered around another pound of “flesh” (either fatty fish or steak) and vegetables; and a post-dinner snack that consisted of a piece of fruit and a spoonful of blackstrap molasses, consumed about 40 minutes before bed.
The total calorie count: anywhere from 5,800 to 7,200, depending on what each day entailed for Meyers.
“Meyers literally has a food program for a rest day, a food program for a travel day, a food program for a matinee game, a food program for a night game and a food program for practices,” Dr. Goglia says. “Because, if you really think about it, these meals need to be inserted strategically within his day to do a certain thing.”
Throw in increased water consumption—an ounce per pound of body weight on active days and a half ounce per pound when inactive—and Meyers would have to remake his entire diet. But rather than double (or close to triple) his intake right away, he’d need to increase his caloric consumption by 10-12 percent every 7-10 days.
Armed with that information, Meyers started to change the way he ate as Portland rallied from a slow start in 2016-17 to sneak into the Western Conference playoffs as the No. 8 seed. Once the eventual champion Golden State Warriors swept the Blazers out of the first round, Meyers decided—at Elle’s behest—to spend the offseason in LA.
There, Gunnar once again helped Meyers find experts to add to his Dream Team.
To address the lingering maladies in his body, Meyers consulted with Fabrice in the summer of 2017. Gunnar gave the initial tip, but Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, both former vets in Portland and fellow Fabrice clients, confirmed to Meyers that he would be working with a “magician.”
“[Players] have a tendency to make them believe that it's normal to hurt if you're a professional athlete,” Fabrice says. “Yeah, it's normal to be sore and stuff like that, but there is a little bit difference between being sore and just like hurting from everywhere.”
Fabrice Gautier works on releasing a restriction of mobility in Meyers' neck. (Anthony Perez)
What Fabrice found was a well-built giant whose assortment of problems—from a rehabbed lower back and surgically repaired shoulder to discomfort in his hips and quads—was holding him back athletically.
“It looked like my physique was solid, I guess,” Meyers says, “but I didn't feel like it at all.”
That same build also made an indelible impression on Gunnar’s other referral for Meyers: Ben Bruno, a LA-based strength and conditioning trainer known for his work with athletes (Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Caroline Wozniacki) and celebrities (Justin Timberlake, Kate Upton, Chelsea Handler).
“He was the most jacked big guy I've ever seen in my life,” Ben says.
As much as Meyers cared about how his body looked, he was more concerned with how it performed on the court. As far as Ben was concerned, that meant working on hip mobility, strengthening glutes and hamstrings, and improving conditioning so that Meyers could get in a low stance and stay there—not just in one game, but over the course of an 82-game slog.
To put all the pieces together, Meyers would need someone who could guide him on the floor. Wesley recommended Drew Hanlen, an NBA skills coaching consultant known for his work with Bradley Beal, Jayson Tatum, Andrew Wiggins and—most importantly, for someone of Meyers’ size—Joel Embiid.
So Meyers hit up his agent at CAA Sports, Aaron Mintz, who reached out to Drew. From there, Drew invited Meyers to the gym at St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey for a week-long tryout. He wanted to gauge everything—from how they got along and how Meyers would fit in with the rest of Drew’s “Pure Sweat family” to Meyers’ work ethic, hunger for improvement and goals (realistic or otherwise).
“It was very obvious after one week that he loved basketball, he was a great guy and that he craved improvement, and was willing to put in the work to get the results that we both thought were possible,” Drew says. “And he had realistic expectations for himself.”
Meyers opted to fill the 7 a.m. slot in Drew’s packed workout schedule. That way, he would have enough time in his days to fit in weekly nutritional consultations with Philip, physical therapy with Fabrice, thrice-weekly strength and conditioning with Ben and, of course, some R&R with Elle and their dog Koko—all toward rewarding the Blazers for the faith they’d shown in him.
“Meyers really feels like he owes it to Portland to become the player that they drafted and that they extended,” Drew says. “That's really what has motivated him. He wants to be able to help Portland win more games and make a run in the playoffs. That's what wakes him up early in the morning and that's what makes him skip the meals that all of us enjoy over summer.
“He just wants to do everything he can to make sure that he's getting the best out of himself every night out.”
To maximize his game, Meyers first had to fix his frame. Dr. Goglia’s diet, despite upping the ante in calories, helped Meyers start to shave down his body fat and raise his energy level. Fabrice hands realigned Meyers’ troublesome back, wherein a pair of blown-out vertebrae had previously led him to consider surgery.
“But then I came here,” Meyers says, “and everything got better, and it went quickly.”
It helped, too, that Fabrice shared (and still shares) an office with Barrence Baytos, a former international ballet dancer and instructor-turned-neuromuscular therapist who earned acclaim for his work with a slew of professional athletes—including Kobe Bryant.
“He’s the genius,” Fabrice says of Barrence.
Week after week over that first summer in 2017, Meyers would go in for deep-tissue massage with Barrence. Then, he would stay for his sessions with Fabrice, which included a unique blend of physical therapy and European osteopathy, followed by core muscle activation while balancing on the Frenchman’s Waff exercise bubbles.
“Neuromuscularly, I didn't have any strength,” Meyers says, “so everything just starts to break down—tendons, small stuff.”
As the pain subsided and his body cleaned up, Meyers was able to train harder with Ben during their sessions, which ran between 75 and 90 minutes each. Since Meyers could already lift, and maxing out weight wasn’t the focus, Ben emphasized perfecting technique and extending range of motion in order to improve mobility along with strength.
“I would say he's a trainer's dream in that he wants coaching and welcomes it,” Ben says. “And also he just does everything well, so it's kind of easy.”
With Drew, things didn’t come so smoothly and seamlessly for Meyers. Despite his diligence, he had a lot more ground to make up on the court.
“Some guys can get away with like just being so crazy talented,” Meyers says, “whereas I have to really focus on every part of the off-the-court stuff and the on-the-floor stuff.”
Early on, Meyers struggled with skills that would seem simple for most high school players. Shot faking and getting to the rim in one dribble was a chore. So, too, was scoring over Drew’s Pure Sweat interns—many of whom were college players, but none of whom were hulking NBA athletes like Meyers.
“In a way, your first five years were a wash,” Drew told him.
Five times a week, Meyers was in the gym with Drew by 7 a.m. to sharpen his outside shot, solidify his screen setting both on and off the ball, and improve his understanding of basic spacing principles.
“The game had never been broken down and simplified for him,” Drew says, “so we started out by trying to get his feel for the game a lot better.”
While Meyers improved across the board, Drew made it clear that he wouldn’t likely see much of a change in his role with the Blazers after just one summer.
“We're gonna get all the basics down—your footwork, your fundamentals—and you're going to feel better,” Drew told him. “But you're probably not gonna play because you know you've dug yourself a little bit of a hole.”
“He had lost some of the trust from his teammates and coaches [due to his history of injury and fatigue] that we needed to earn back,” Drew says now.
That wouldn’t come easily, certainly not after Meyers missed three weeks early on in the 2017-18 season with an ankle injury.
Even after he returned, Meyers racked up DNPs with regularity. In the 33 games he did play, he averaged 7.7 minutes—less than half of his 16.5-minute average from the year prior—with 3.4 points and 2.1 rebounds.
Still, Meyers showed signs that a turnaround was coming. Though the shot samples were small, he drained 42.3 percent of his three-point tries and shot a career-high 67.3 percent from two-point range.
Once Portland was swept out of the 2018 playoffs by the New Orleans Pelicans, Meyers got back to work in LA.
Now that Meyers was an established threat from the three-point line, Drew turned his attention towards making contested shots, attacking closeouts when defenders rushed to obstruct his long-distance looks, and scoring in the low- and mid-post whenever smaller opponents switched onto him.
From time to time, the two would squeeze in a second workout on a given day. Some weeks, Meyers would spend a sixth day at St. Bernard, be it to play pickup with the Pure Sweat fam or compete one-on-one against eventual Orlando Magic rookie Mo Bamba, Jayson and Joel.
“Joel is the best big guy in the world right now,” Drew told Meyers. “If you can hang with him, you can hang with anybody.”
Though Joel won more often than not, Meyers managed to give the Philadelphia 76ers’ All-Star “a good run for his money.” That helped to get Meyers’ confidence back to where it needed to be for him to impact Portland’s fortunes.
“Confidence in basketball comes from consistently seeing success” Drew says. “And so he was seeing success in workouts, which led him to see success in one-on-one, which led him to see success in five-on-five in pickup, which led him to see success in his actual real games with the Trail Blazers.”
Along the way, Meyers adhered to Dr. Goglia’s diet almost religiously, reducing his body fat from 10 percent to four percent. He also continued to push himself further with Ben. After building a strong base and mastering basic lower body movements during their first summer together, Meyers focused more on power and lateral movement—all while listening to country music in the gym.
“I always just think it's very ironic that the guy pushes himself like super hard and listens to the most unmotivating, soft music,” Ben jokes.
Even with that curious soundtrack, Meyers managed to make major headway with Ben. He set gym records on Ben’s VersaClimber, scaling 192 feet in 30 seconds, and on his Airdyne Bike, flying through a half-mile sprint in 45 seconds. Meyers also perfected his deadlift, pushing through 10 reps from the low handle setting with 400 pounds on the trap bar.
“He's very strong-willed,” Ben says. “If you give him like a target number to hit, it's like he can almost just will it to happen.”
But Meyers’ desire and capacity to improve was, at times, too much. He worked his body so hard that he wound up inflaming his right quad—the one that Dr. Naysan was able to fix through dental work.
“Honestly, I was overtraining just because I was so excited to be learning and doing so much better, and feeling so much better on the floor,” Meyers admits. “I was playing non-stop when, in the summer, you're trying to gauge how much you should work out and, like, give your body a little bit of rest and recovery.
“But I was having so much fun, honest to God, doing it that there was just nothing that was gonna slow me down.”
Amid their sessions with Meyers, Fabrice and Barrence did their part to convince him that regular rest and quality sleep would have to be part of a healthy equation.
“I told him, ‘You need to be an athlete, but you also need to be a basketball player,” Fabrice says. “He's just finally starting to put everything together in a nice way.”
Meyers works on the stability of his overhead squat form and control on the Waff Medium Elite exercise bubble. (Anthony Perez)
It’s early February 2018. With two weeks to go until All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, most NBA teams are dragging their way through the season-long grind.
The powers that be, though, have gifted Portland a rare six-day reprieve between games. It’s small consolation for the Blazers’ league-high travel mileage to and from the Pacific Northwest.
Meyers had eyed this particular respite since the schedule was released over the summer. So when head coach Terry Stotts told his players how much of that time they’d get off, Meyers knew exactly where he would go and what he would do: straight to LA, to get away from basketball for a bit with Elle, sure, but also to tune up his body.
While in LA, Meyers fits in a 35-minute lift with Ben and spends half a day at LA Main Physical Therapy—two hours with Barrence followed by one hour with Fabrice. He’ll see Drew in the Bahamas during the National Basketball Players Association’s Winter Meeting and talk to Dr. Goglia by phone from time to time.
That schedule makes for a whirlwind of a visit. And putting together and working with his “Dream Team” hasn’t come cheaply for Meyers.
“Gotta pay good money for it,” he quips.
But Meyers doesn’t flinch at the cost—and not just because his career affords him a considerable budget. Though he may not be an NBA superstar, he sees the value that the best basketball players get out of the hefty initial investments they make in their own health and well-being.
“LeBron is the best player in the league, makes tons of money, so him investing X amount of money is really nothing for him,” Meyers says, citing a prior admission from Maverick Carter, LeBron’s business partner, that the four-time MVP and three-time champion spends about $1.5 million annually on his training, recovery and diet.
“But he knows that he's getting that 30x easily,” Meyers adds.
Meyers and Fabrice share a laugh while the Blazers big warms up on a Waff Mini Elite. (Anthony Perez)
While the results in Meyers’ case may not be quite so eye-popping in purely monetary terms, he’s already reaped plenty of other rewards from compiling his Dream Team.
Through Drew’s workouts and pickup games, Meyers has forged strong friendships with players around the league like Joel, Jayson, Mo, Brad, Andrew and Jordan Clarkson. Through Barrence, he’s become a benefactor of All Eagles Oscar, a non-profit organization that helps military members and their families re-adjust to civilian life following combat operations.
And with Philip restricting Meyers’ intake of inflammatory foods (dairy, sugar, gluten, etc.), Elle wound up concocting her own protein bar with clean ingredients (including three types of mushrooms) that her husband could eat. One batch turned to five, five turned to 10, and as family and friends started eating it up, Elle and Meyers decided to spin those bars into a business called Level.
All the while, Meyers’ game has continued to grow as the Blazers push toward the playoffs again. Through March 8, he’s shooting 54.2 percent from the floor, including a career-best 46.5 percent from three-point range, while nearly doubling his minutes per game from 2017-18.
“It's been a grind, but it's been a fun grind. I enjoy doing it,” Meyers says. “When I'm driving to the gym in the morning, I'm excited to get better because I know that I got people that care about me and see my potential.”
Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.