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Retiring trainer Gary Vitti is honored by the Lakers

Lakers trainer Gary Vitti waves to the crowd while being honored for his retirement at the end of the season.

Lakers trainer Gary Vitti waves to the crowd while being honored for his retirement at the end of the season.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti goes to Italy every summer to spend a few weeks at his vacation home, an unpretentious family heirloom 90 minutes east of Rome.

He’ll fly there for free this summer.

The Lakers honored Vitti’s 32 years of service with them — he’s retiring after this season — by giving him two first-class tickets to Italy. They also presented him with a large framed Lakers jersey with his name on the back and purple-and-gold medical cross instead of a number.

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The Lakers were so wrapped up in Sunday’s on-court presentation, which happened after the first quarter against the Boston Celtics, that they didn’t discuss game strategy and took a timeout 12 seconds into the second quarter.

Vitti, 61, received a standing ovation after a brief video on the Staples Center scoreboard. He was part of eight NBA championships and 12 NBA Finals trips.

“I watched Kobe [Bryant] grow up and he watched me grow old,” Vitti said.

Vitti was just as important to the franchise as Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and Magic Johnson, Lakers Coach Byron Scott said.

“Gary’s on that list as one of the greatest that’s ever been around this organization. He’s never put a uniform on but he’s been just as important to all the championships that have been won here since he’s been here,” Scott said.

Scott credited Vitti with helping his development as a player.

“When he got here, Gary was real big on lifting weights, which was pretty taboo back in the day. Players just didn’t do that,” Scott said. “We had people in the organization telling him that he was going to ruin a lot of the players because he was going to get them too bulked up and things like that.

“I thought it prolonged my career. I was able to play 14 seasons.”

It was appropriate that the Lakers honored Vitti against the Celtics.

They won the championship against Boston in 1985, Vitti’s first season with the team, finally ending playoff futility against their cross-country rival. The Lakers were crushed in Game 1, 148-114, on Memorial Day but came back to win the series in six games.

“It was huge. It’ll be one of the main chapters in my book,” Vitti said. “The greatest example of overcoming adversity was what [Coach] Pat Riley did and what the players did after the ‘Memorial Day Massacre’ to come back and win that series.”

Vitti said the championship “transformed the franchise.”

“I think if we had lost to the Celtics, [Lakers officials] would have torn the team up and tried to find another way to beat them,” Vitti said. “They would have done something. I don’t know what.”

Vitti will be retained as a Lakers consultant the next two years.


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