Ex-Lakers trainer Gary Vitti sees a level playing field in the NBA’s Orlando bubble

Then-Lakers trainer Gary Vitti tapes one of Kobe Bryant's fingers Feb. 19, 2016, at Staples Center.
Then-Lakers trainer Gary Vitti tapes one of Kobe Bryant’s fingers Feb. 19, 2016, at Staples Center.
(Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE / Getty Images)

On Tuesday we excerpted Episode 2 of the Legends of Sport: Restarting the Clock podcast, in which host Andy Bernstein spoke with Bleacher Report senior writer and podcast host Howard Beck about the reopening of the NBA season. In this excerpt, lightly edited for clarity and space, longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti tackles the subject of player adjustments to the new NBA calendar, and why fans might be surprised about the impact of the layoff.

You can listen to the entire podcast with Vitti and Beck here.


Andy Bernstein: As a long-time NBA head athletic trainer, I’m sure you’ve got some specific thoughts and concerns about the unique situation that the NBA is undertaking in Orlando. How would you have approached keeping the players in shape during the long layoff, both mentally and physically? And do you think there’ll be any significant unique situations, like injuries you might not have had in a regular NBA season, in Orlando?

Gary Vitti: It’s a level playing field because all 22 teams that are going in are in the same boat. Are you in as good of shape as you were [when the season was interrupted in March] at game 65? No, obviously you’re not. But everybody else is the same. It’s just like going into the NBA season in basically September, October, November. But you’re doing it now in July and August. You’re just moving the calendar, but basically, the number of days and the weeks are about the same.

The Lakers, Clippers and Bucks were the clear favorites to win the NBA title in March. One expert says as many as nine teams are now in the title discussion.

What’s a little bit different is that when you start, say Labor Day or the first day of training camp, which is about three weeks after Labor Day, we look at it as a marathon. Well, now it’s not a marathon. It’s a sprint. But there are some interesting things. For one, if you look at the longitudinal data of injuries in the NBA, they usually happen later in the season as your body fatigues, and there’s probably a travel component that’s attached to that. So, you’ve taken the travel part out of it. Everybody is going to the same place.

I’m thinking that all of these players are going to come in pretty rested. All their aches and pains are gone. Any injuries that they’ve had have been treated and rehabbed. They’ve had plenty of time to get well. These are professional athletes. They want to play. They are competitive guys. It’s not like they’ve been sitting around eating and drinking beer and laying on the sofa. I think most of them have done what they’ve had to do.

Gary Vitti treats Kobe Bryant on board the team flight to Indiana the day before Game 3 of the 2000 NBA Finals.
Gary Vitti treats Kobe Bryant on board the team flight to Indiana the day before taking on the Pacers in Game 3 of the 2000 NBA Finals.
(Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE / Getty Images)

Andy Bernstein: What would have been your message once the pandemic hit, the NBA shut down, what would have been your message to the guys to stay in shape? I talked to some guys, like Kevin Love, for example, he didn’t even have a hoop in his house. And these guys are stuck in their houses. They can’t go to the gym. That’s a big difference, too.

Gary Vitti: There’s always a way. The way you get hurt is trying to slow down from running fast. And the other thing the body doesn’t like is torque, turning, changing directions. But you could go find yourself a field. You can get yourself a personal trainer. And that person wears a mask and you go out into an open area and do all sorts of things. There are a lot of functional movements that you can mimic. Lunging for instance, things of this nature that you can try to mimic functional movements in a particular sport that you play in.

The Lakers and Clippers travel to Florida this to resume their championship quest; the Legends of Sports podcast explores who — and what — stand in their way

For the audience to think that the league shut down and everybody went home and just hung out and didn’t do anything, I don’t think that would be true. I would have been on the phone. Even in our offseason without COVID-19, I was on the phone every two or three days with a player. And if not an actual conversation, an exchange of text messages. Hey, I’m just checking in. How’s it going? What kind of shape are you in? You have any aches and pains? Anything you need? I’m sure that there was strong communication between management and players, sports medicine staff and players, players and other players. I think you’re going to be surprised. These are great, really well-trained athletes.