It’s 7:45 on a chilly Saturday morning in October and there are only two cars parked in the “Players Only” lot on the north end of Pepsi Center.
One of the cars is a sleek, black Audi RS4 convertible. The top is up and the motor has been shut down for quite some time now. The car belongs to Steve Hess, the 16-year assistant coach/strength and conditioning for the Nuggets, and it’s almost always the first one in the lot.
There are only 11 days before Denver tips off its season, and Hess has arrived early in preparation for a workout with Andre Iguodala, who the coach says “always gets in the first workout.”
Then again, an early start is nothing new for Hess. To say that he goes from sun up to sun down would be selling him short. Stories of Hess’ days are legendary. There are 5:00 a.m. wakeup calls followed by an hour of cardio. A workout routine planned and ready for every one of the Nuggets players ready by 7:00 a.m. Morning meetings followed by hours in the gym. At lunch, he works out again. At 11:00 p.m., after a full day’s work and a home game, it’s back to the bike. Another hour of cardio. Then, it’s back to the weights. Bedtime is at 1:00 a.m. – 12:30 if he’s lucky.
Then, he does it all again.
There’s a reason that Hess is widely considered to be the best strength-and-conditioning coach in the NBA – some say in all of sports. As his schedule might indicate, he’s simply relentless. But it’s his tenacious nature, paired with a deep knowledge of fitness and nutrition, that makes him the best.
When former Denver Broncos tight end Tony Scheffler battled injuries and didn’t like the training program he’d been given at Dove Valley, he sought out Hess. It didn’t matter that Hess typically trained basketball players and Scheffler was a football player. Word on the street was that Hess could train anyone, making them bigger, faster and stronger. The season that followed saw a healthy Scheffler from start to finish; in the process, he posted some of his best numbers as a pro.
Hess also is the owner of the Forza Fitness and Performance Club on 18th Street in Denver. He put the same care and know-how into designing his club that he used to build the Nuggets workout facility. The Nuggets asked, “What do we need?” Hess answered by constructing one of the most technically advanced weight rooms in all of basketball. At times, he’ll take players over to Forza for additional, specialized workouts.
But to understand Hess, and perhaps why he’s so effective, one only needs to spend a short amount of time with him. Within minutes, one this is apparent: Hess has incredible attention to detail. Take his diet for example. He leaves each morning with two coolers of food – all of it natural and homemade, and weighed out to the exact ounce. One cooler has protein. The other has carbs. He’s also got plenty of supplements. He eats at 1.5-hour intervals all day long; it’s a constant fueling of his body, all designed for energy efficiency and maximum metabolism.
His car is another example.
“I’m so flipping anal retentive,” he chuckles, looking over the spotless RS4. “It’s never dirty. I can’t stand for it to be dirty.”
He credits his wife, Alecia, for finding the “perfect car” – one he says is 100 percent factory, never having anything added to the car’s original state. Hess says Alecia has incredible patience, a quality he admits he doesn’t necessarily possess. But his propensity to keep things neat shines through. The car is a 2008, but it looks like it was just driven off the showroom floor.
Hess spins the car into the center of the parking lot, priming it to have its photo taken. He opens the door, hops up, points out a few of his favorite features and then poses alongside the vehicle.
A few other cars start to filter into the lot. Andre Miller. Evan Fournier. A few coaches.
“Is that it?” he asks. “That’s all you need?”
Yep. All over. And it’s onto the rest of Hess’ day.
“Good deal. Love it! Love it!” he says in typical, high-spirited fashion. “I’ve got to head inside and work out Iguodala.
“Love working with that guy. He works so hard. I love a guy who works hard.”
Fittingly, Hess scurries back inside Pepsi Center, a full day in front of him.