He never got the chance to ask Simon for any first-hand advice, because, as he said, ” it’s a stereotype. They look at us like, we’re working for one of their little side companies.”
So instead, he came up with a financial plan for his future.
He decided to take control of his finances himself because, “It was either let a financial guy go out and gamble my money and I would sit back at home with my fingers and toes crossed hoping he doesn’t lose it, or I go out and gamble and at least if I lose my money, I learn a lesson, not him,” he said.
He tried his hand at real estate and the music business, and ended up losing–er–learning a lot of lessons. He was doing well overall, but nothing seemed to click until that afternoon on the park bench in Houston, where the rest of his life changed.
With Bender, every experience serves as a lesson.
All of that time he spent lying on a training table trying to rehab his knee had been tantamount to an advanced degree in physical therapy. He soaked in all of the knowledge from his trainers, including renowned physician Dr. Dan Dyrek, who had worked on various baseball stars and Pacers executive Larry Bird during his playing days.
“I just soaked up everything they told me,” Bender said.
“I learned about muscle engagement, and which muscles needed to be activated to protect certain joints, and with me being naturally creative, it was easy for me to translate a lot of that.”
As he sat on the park bench that afternoon, Bender focused on the way people moved, and how they shifted their weight to keep balance.
All of a sudden, it hit him.
“I thought if you added a band to the back of their leg, I didn’t know exactly what it would do, but I knew it would add some resistance,” he said.
So he rushed into CVS and bought some duct tape and office binder clips, then ran up to his apartment to put together a contraption of ankle weights and rubber bands, and in no more than 10 minutes, he had what he described as sort of an external hamstring.
He brought his invention to physicians at Purdue University, and they were amazed with what he had come up with. “It worked well,” Bender said. “But it looked like crap.”
So, he did some research and found out how to go about getting a product manufactured and brought into market. He hired a marketing guy, and struck a deal with a manufacturer in China. The entire process took him six years.
“It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life, tougher than going to the NBA,” Bender said.
Today, the JB Intensive Trainer sells for $130 on his website. It’s been a popular buy among fitness and physical therapy gurus, who praise the product as innovative.
Most people wouldn’t expect this kind of ingenuity from a big-time athlete who never went to college, but for Bender, this is par for the course.
“As athletes, we don’t really get the chance to use our brains within life until we retire,” he said. Bender would return to the NBA in 2010 for a brief cameo with the Knicks before permanently calling it a career to focus on his business. He said part of the reason for his comeback was to prove to himself that his product worked.
“God gave me a brain and some creativity,” he said.
And Jonathan Bender did the rest.