The Lakers are a family business. Gary Vitti is Lakers’ family. The head trainer is entering his 32nd year with the team. It will be his last. Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times has the story:
Vitti will stay on for two additional seasons as a consultant, but will no longer travel with the team; will no longer be the guiding hand that oversees the Lakers’ health.
Some people are probably looking at Vitti stepping down, thinking to all the Lakers’ injuries over the last couple of years, and whispering to themselves that it is time for a change. I don’t agree with that notion at all (if you think Vitti could have prevented Nash’s leg being broken and nerve endings being frayed or Kobe’s achilles from exploding, more power to you).
Still the circumstances of his departure, likely are tied to the team’s horrendous run of injury luck. From Bresnahan:
So much has happened the last few years, so little of it positive. Vitti even called it “a nightmare.” Few would disagree, the Lakers continually losing Bryant and Steve Nash to injury, along with a slew of games.
“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”
For me, though, when I think of Vitti, I think of all the positives he brought to the team’s myriad of injury issues.
I think of how he’s worked with Kobe over the years, often around the clock, developing and implementing methods to keep the Lakers’ prized player on the court and competing at the highest level. I think of him using a streamlined splint and tape job on Kobe’s index finger on his shooting hand during the team’s run to the title in 2010. I think of the “butterfly” tape job he did on Kobe’s ring and pinky finger to stabilize the fracture in the smaller appendage in 2009. I recall the story of Vitti working with Andrew Bynum on his running gait and having the big man develop strength in specific core muscles, helping him remain healthy during what was his best season with the team.
The other thing I think of is Vitti was also so much more than a trainer. In a feature on Vitti, Ramona Shelburne once reported that Vitti really only got three hours for himself each day — the other 21 hours were dedicated to the Lakers. Brad Turner of the LA Times reported that Vitti’s day typically started at least an hour and a half before the players would arrive at the practice facility:
If the players are scheduled to arrive at the Lakers’ training facility in El Segundo at 10:30 a.m. for an 11 a.m. practice, Vitti and his staff arrive about 9 a.m. They make plans for the day and on which players need therapy.
When the Lakers arrive, the training staff stretches and warms up the players.
During practice, Vitti is back on his computer documenting therapy reports, talking to Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak about injured players and getting ready for post-practice therapy.
Turner further explained that Vitti also had a slew of other duties for the team, ranging from making arrangements for their chartered flights to making sure the team had practice sites secured during road trips. I’ve also heard that Vitti is the man who secures and hands out hotel keys to the players while on the road. (Update: Vitti does, in fact, hand out the hotel keys on the road.) Vitti is also the go-between for players, coaches, and management, using discretion when necessary and working in the best interests of all sides. This isn’t a role that could be performed without unwavering trust in the man by everyone within the organization.
From Jerry Buss to Jeanie and Jim, the Logo to Mitch Kupchak, from Riley to Phil, Magic and Kareem to Shaq and Kobe and Pau and everyone else in between, Vitti has earned an maintained that trust. He’s done an amazing job not just at his primary job, but at all the others as well.
Gary Vitti is Lakers’ family. I, for one, will be sad to see him go.