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Jonathan  Bender

Jonathan Bender

Entrepreneur, Inventor & Former NBA Star Player

Jonathan Bender

Entrepreneur, Inventor & Former NBA Star Player


Fifteen years ago, Jonathan Bender of the Indiana Pacers was one of the hottest prospects in professional basketball — the rare first-round draft pick recruited fresh out of high school by the NBA. Standing 6'11" and weighing 202 pounds, he was the rare athlete who could play all five positions on the court. Hailed as the heir to Michael Jordan, he scored 31 points in the 1999 McDonald's All-American game, beating the legend’s record and setting himself up for a potentially extraordinary career.

But a knee injury forced Bender into sudden retirement at age 25, pressuring him to find new revenue streams when the $30 million he earned with the Pacers quickly dwindled. He tried concert promotion, rescue work and real estate investment, with limited results. Inspired by Pacers owner Mel Simon, a self-made strip mall magnate, he started thinking about entrepreneurship, innovation and product invention. Then the spark came: While people watching in a Houston park, Bender envisioned a resistance-based training and rehabilitation device that improved the way people walked. Fashioning a prototype out of duct tape, cables and ankle weights sourced from a local pharmacy, he tested the device on himself. Alleviating stress on the joints by strengthening the muscle groups around it, the device resembled nothing less than a common weightlifting belt —sewn together by a seamstress he knew from the neighborhood.

While wearing the prototype, his injuries gradually healed, easing pressure on his knees and building strength in the quads, hamstrings and calves. Not only could he walk again — he discovered he could play basketball again. On December 13, 2009, Bender signed with the New York Knicks after a four-year absence from the game. He made a favorable comeback on the court; behind the scenes, Knicks doctors were stunned to discover that he boasted the strongest lower-body power of any player on the team, even after injury and rehabilitation. Invited to return to the Knicks the following season, he declined, opting instead to perfect the device that helped him walk again.

He spent two years testing what was now called the JB Intensive Trainer, seeking out research physicians at Purdue University to help perfect its strength-building abilities. He took out a patent on the device, found an overseas manufacturer and began researching distribution channels. In July 2013, the JBIT MedPro hit the market, earning $500K in revenue during its first year of availability, exceeding that figure the following year. By the age of 33, Bender was running the entire operation from his laptop, resulting in a career transformation and reinvention that could be taught in business school as a triumph of do-it-yourself entrepreneurship and innovation.

Born in the Gulf Coast hamlet of Picayune, Mississippi to a father who was a cook and a mother who worked as a cashier at WalMart, Bender became one of the nation's top-ranked high school basketball players before launching his NBA career. Following the success of the JBIT MedPro, he will publish his first book in 2016, The Courtside CEO, describing how he took the mindset and approach of a professional athlete and transformed it through entrepreneurial savvy into the invention and marketing of a landmark product that has helped thousands of people rehabilitate worldwide. In his keynote presentations, he employs slides and videos highlighting his personal experiences and business expertise, using the platform of his NBA experience to inspire audiences on the importance of innovation and embracing change when you hit the inevitable roadblock.

Speech Topics

Preventative Health: Planning Ahead

Former NBA player turned inventor Jonathan Bender grew up in a small town in which high school athletics was a ticket to the big leagues. But there was no team specialist to ensure that he and his fellow athletes were working out sensibly to protect against future injuries. After a growth spurt that pushed him towards seven feet over the course of a single summer, Bender had no idea that his knees were vulnerable through strain to future injury. Several years later, at the peak of his game with the Indiana Pacers, he was forced into early retirement from a bone-on-bone injury. In this presentation targeted to health-care professionals, Bender examines preventative health care measures through his own unique experience in the NBA and other arenas, including his home life — his mother has experienced mental illness — and greater community, where obesity, diabetes and heart disease extract a considerable toll. Through these personal stories, Bender offers actionable solutions, including fitness and training regimes, dietary tips and new products (like his own JB Intensive Trainer rehabilitation device) that can help people of all ages plan for a healthier future.

Building For The Future the Jonathan Bender Way

Jonathan Bender was one of the most highly touted first-draft NBA prospects to come out of high-school basketball, resulting in star-making turns with Toronto Raptors, the Indiana Pacers and, later, the New York Knicks. But an injury took him out of the game for four years, forcing him to rethink his hasty decision to skip higher education and head straight into what he thought was the easy money of professional basketball. In this presentation targeted to colleges and universities, Bender draws from the mistakes of his past and the successes of his post-NBA career reinvention as a groundbreaking inventor of the JB Intensive Trainer rehabilitation device. He shows how building a blueprint for the future creates a firmer foundation on which to build a long-term career, inviting audiences to figure out what they want out of life while keeping in mind that anything can change in an instant. Most of all, he urges young people to embrace reinvention and flexibility at every turn of the game — when your knees give out, it doesn't mean you can't stand tall and triumph in other avenues through focus, determination and hard work.

The Courtside CEO: Playing Your Best Game Through Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Whether your playing field is the basketball court or the business suite, Jonathan Bender knows both sides of a game requiring nimble teamwork, effective problem-solving skills and strong leadership in a cutthroat arena. What helps a professional athlete win his game at Madison Square Garden is no different than what a business professional working at the peak of his or her abilities can achieve in the boardroom through astute innovation and entrepreneurship. In this presentation targeted to corporations and business leaders, Bender consults his own playbook, his forthcoming how-to volume The Courtside CEO, to show how innovation helps companies and individuals stand out from the crowd. Drawing amply from his NBA triumphs with the Raptors, the Pacers and the Knicks and the groundbreaking product launch of his JB Intensive Trainer rehabilitation device — which catapulted him to unpredictable new career highs — Bender shares the secrets of his successes on and off the courts.

Innovating Your Personal Brand

When a sudden injury forced him to retire from the NBA at age 25, Jonathan Bender needed a new career plan. After forays into concert promotion, rescue work and real estate investment, he found firm footing as an inventor of the groundbreaking JB Intensive Trainer rehabilitation device, which first helped the 6'11" basketball star walk more efficiently before helping thousands of others do the same. In this presentation targeted to business professionals, Bender journeys through every crucial stop in the genesis and evolution of the JBIT MedPro, beginning with the inspirational spark in a Houston park that led to a research and development phase with university scientists, a financing round with a CFO, and a worldwide product launch in 2013. Through all of this, Bender came to depend on the team he assembled from the ground up — finding the right experts to fill in the gaps, learning to avoid the flight risk that comes with entrepreneurship, and working together to find solutions that lead to eventual success. Drawing from his forthcoming volume The Courtside CEO, Bender demystifies the product launch from inception to marketplace, revealing valuable innovation secrets including what it takes to reinvent oneself as an entrepreneur.