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For Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, a season of twists and turns

Los Angeles Times
March 10, 2013

Gary Vitti has seen a lot in his 29 years as the Lakers' athletic trainer. This is his most trying season yet.

He has felt the weight of the team's struggles, the Lakers standing at 32-31 and tied with Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference despite meteoric expectations.

He also experienced the strain in the trainer's room, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash missing a total of 51 games because of injuries, not to mention major hip surgery for Jordan Hill and Steve Blake's 37-game absence because of abdominal and groin issues.

But Vitti's influence isn't only in sports medicine. He played a vital role in the team's clear-the-air meeting in January in Memphis, caring deeply about the franchise that gave him eight championship rings in 12 trips to the NBA Finals.

First, though, the continual line in and out of the trainer's room, the NBA's version of taking a number at the oh-so-crowded deli counter.

"From a health standpoint, we've had an absolutely horrible season. One thing after another after another," the straight-shooting Vitti said recently on a quiet day at the Lakers' training facility. "And all the things we did see were pretty fluky types of injuries. We didn't get any garden-variety ankle sprains."

Nash had a small fracture in his lower left leg that also caused unexpected nerve damage. Gasol has been sidelined most recently by a rare tear inside the bottom of his right foot. And, of course, Dwight Howard had major back surgery last April, bringing the medical remnants of it into the Lakers' season.

"Everybody seemed to be down at one point. It was like a comedy of errors," Vitti said. "I can't think of another year where it's been this bad."

Vitti also saw some bad basketball earlier this season. He vividly remembers the day Coach Mike D'Antoni called a team meeting in Memphis with the Lakers spinning toward a laughable 17-25 record near the end of January.

Vitti felt the need to speak after players and coaches expressed their grievances.

"I snapped," Vitti said. "I looked around the room and I said, 'Aren't you embarrassed? Because I am. This is a storied franchise and it took us decades to put those banners on the wall. In 41 games, you've undone it. There's a responsibility that comes with this. You need to understand that with a level of pride. It's embarrassing to do what we're doing as a team.'"

There was silence for several moments after Vitti spoke.

"It was pretty incredible," said a person at the meeting who asked not to be identified.

Vitti, 58, tries to keep his career and personal life separate, whether marrying off his daughter, Rachel, in Texas during last month's All-Star break or making authentic Italian food at his Manhattan Beach home with his wife, Martha.

But his immersion in the Lakers can be thick. Especially in a season like this.

"I've made it my life's work to not have my happiness rely on how the team's doing. You can be pretty miserable if you do that," Vitti said. "But there is this underlying thing that's sort of with you all the time. It's hard to go out in a small community like Manhattan Beach when things aren't going well because people say things to you and it makes you not want to go out. You don't want to deal with it: 'Why isn't the team doing well?' It does affect you a little bit. I've got to keep it all in perspective."

Vitti responds to the mental game by putting a different quote every day on the whiteboard in the trainer's room, including a line from a book about the Navy SEALs mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

"Their saying is, 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,'" Vitti said. "That's what I put on the board when we came back from All-Star break. If you look at the task we had ahead of us, it would be overwhelming. So I told the guys to look at what's in front of you."

A week later, Vitti wrote on the board, "Don't let your history determine your destiny." Howard posted it on Twitter that day to his almost 4 million followers.

"He stole my quote," Vitti said. "I'm happy he did because that means he's actually reading it and it's meaningful to him."

Will the Lakers salvage this whole thing and justify a $100-million payroll? Or will this rank near the top of Vitti's most memorable seasons for all the wrong reasons?

"Knock on wood and I hate to say anything, but it seems like everything's getting better," Vitti said. "The basketball is getting better, which to some extent is due to the health getting better. If we can just get into the playoffs, where everything's going well, we can create a problem for other teams. I don't think anybody really wants to play us."

Athletic trainer Tom Abdenour: Advantage, Aztecs

Story by Mark Zeigler
Thursday, March 1, 2012

A half-hour after San Diego State ended a three-game losing streak with a harrowing 67-58 overtime win against Wyoming, Coach Steve Fisher walked into the Viejas Arena training room.

There was Garrett Green with his sprained right ankle in an ice bucket. Not far from him was Jamaal Franklin, his left ankle encased in ice, too. But Fisher was there to see head athletic trainer Tom Abdenour, to thank him.

Green and Franklin missed part or all of the previous game at Air Force, a two-point loss that had people questioning whether the house of cards of Montezuma Mesa was finally blowing over. Both somehow played against Wyoming. Green had SDSU’s last four points of regulation; Franklin had the first five points of overtime.

“I don’t think,” Fisher told Abdenour, “we would have won without you.”

College teams aren’t allowed to give scholarships to NBA players, but are no rules about hiring the league’s athletic trainers. Abdenour came to SDSU last year after spending 24 seasons with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, and it’s hard to get through a practice or game day without someone all but pledging their first born to him.

“I wouldn’t be here without him,” fifth-year senior Tim Shelton said last week.

Shelton was limited to 9.1 minutes last season with knees that continually betrayed him. This season: 25 starts and 25.6 minutes. Against Wyoming, he played a career-high 37 minutes.

A lot of it is an unwavering will, as a senior who knows this is it for competitive basketball, to play through pain. Some of it, though, is Abdenour’s stretching and flexibility regimen tailored from a comprehensive biomechanical analysis of Shelton, along with an NBA-style limit on pounding in practice.

“Tom has been amazing this year,” Shelton said after the Wyoming game. “He stayed with me here after the game until about 11, got in the ice bath and then deep tissue massage. He woke up early this morning and I got back in the ice bath at 8. He’s always willing to keep his phone on and keep the door open for me, whatever I need to do.”

Or as Green put it: “He’s a magician inside the training room. He’s shown us a lot of his NBA tricks … hundreds of little tricks.”

Green landed on someone’s foot grabbing a rebound midway through the second half at Air Force. He spent the rest of the game icing the ankle, and then – after Abdenour got some ice from an airport restaurant – on the flight home from Denver. They arrived at Viejas Arena about 10 p.m. and did another treatment. At 8 a.m. the next morning, a Sunday, another treatment.

Green, who has rolled his share of ankles, figured it was a two-week injury.

Four days later, he shot 6 of 6 and had a season-high 14 points against Wyoming.

Said Abdenour: “When someone gets hurt, I tell them: We’re going to spend a lot of quality time together.”

Abdenour spent eight years at Weber State before being hired by the Warriors, where he worked 1,900 regular season games under 13 different coaches. He also worked the 2000 Summer Olympics for the U.S. men’s basketball team, as well as international events in track and field, fencing, swimming and diving. In 2007 he was inducted into the National Athletic Trainers’ Hall of Fame. His brother, Mike, is the longtime athletic trainer for the Detroit Pistons.

“I’ve been exposed to some great educational opportunities,” Abdenour said.

He had Green and Franklin wear special compression socks to reduce swelling, smother their ankles in an anti-inflammatory rub, then dump in ice buckets while hooked up to electric stimulation machine. There’s also joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization, exercise and, he says, “a little luck.”

“No different than I would have treated our players with the Warriors,” Abdenour said. “But maybe there is a little more aggressive approach coming from the NBA … Missing a game is not in the best interests of anyone.”

Some of his techniques are cutting edge. Some – the Epsom salts, the green rubbing alcohol – are straight out of your grandmother’s medicine cabinet.

“I’m an old school guy,” said Abdenour, who recently completed a doctorate in health sciences. “Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. As much high-tech and evidence-based science we go by, sometimes old-fashioned stuff works, too.”


BOSTON – June 19, 2012 - The National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association named Ed Lacerte as their 2011-12 recipient of the Joe O’Toole Athletic Trainer of the Year. The award is chosen each year by his peers to be recognized for exemplary achievement or outstanding service to the NBA, the National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association or his community. Lacerte was selected for his outstanding service to the NBATA. The award is named after Joe O’Toole, a long time former head athletic trainer of the Atlanta Hawks, is regarded as the father of the NBATA. This is the second time Lacerte has been selected as Athletic Trainer of the Year with his previous award coming after the 1992-93 season.

Lacerte completed his 25th season with the Celtics as their Head Athletic Trainer this season making him the longest-serving athletic trainer in the history of the club. Lacerte has also earned honors including being named as the athletic trainer for the “Dream Team” for the gold-medal winning 1992 US Olympic Basketball Team and a member of the local organizing committee for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1996 and 2000. Lacerte is also one of five NBA head athletic trainers who contributed to a HarperCollins Publishers book titled “NBA Workout Training Guide”, which was published in January of 1999.

Dennis Williams and Steve Stricker Save a Life at Charlotte

It was a game day and our sponsorship people had sold a “Court of Dreams” package to a business. Basically, the package includes getting to play pick-up on the game floor, dinner and tickets to the game. 

I had just finished working out and was checking my messages. Josh Rosen, our assistant PR guy at the time, called my office from his cell and said “You better get out here, there’s a guy having a heart attack”. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about and he clarified he was in the arena and there was a Court of Dreams group out there. I grabbed the AED and headed toward the court. 

Our radio guy, Scott Lauer, had also contacted my assistant Dennis and Dennis had arrived on the scene about 20-30 seconds before I did. Dennis assessed the situation and made sure 911 had been activated, which it had. Dennis checked vitals and began CPR and I got the AED opened and put the pads on the patient. The first AED assessment advised to deliver a shock and I did that. Dennis checked ABCs again and then continued CPR. I dealt with a couple people in the group who were nervous and a little traumatized by the patient’s reaction to the shock. We left the AED on and it assessed again but did not advise another shock, just to continue CPR. The EMTs arrived shortly after the second AED assessment and they took over and intubated the patient and transported him to the hospital. 

We found out the next day the patient was in critical condition but stable and 2 days after that we found out that he was going to be OK.

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