Article reposted from Los Angeles Lakers
Author: Joey Ramirez
Marco Nuñez grew up one mile away from the future site of STAPLES Center. Now, he will be replacing a legend in that building.
Nuñez, the Lakers’ Assistant Athletic Trainer since 2008, has been promoted to Head Athletic Trainer, replacing his mentor, Gary Vitti, who spent the last 32 years at the reins of the Los Angeles training staff.
In addition to what Nuñez learned about the field from his eight years under Vitti, the L.A. native puts an emphasis on the way that players would come to Vitti with their problems both on and off the floor.
“The thing I’ve probably learned most from him is his relationship with the players,” Nuñez said. “That’s probably the key thing: gaining that trust from the players. If you don’t have the players’ trust, they don’t come to you. You could be the greatest trainer in the world or the worst — if a player doesn’t come to you, you won’t be long here.”
Despite having a roster filled with players that have only been with the team for a year or two, Nuñez has developed relationships with the current crop of Lakers based on comfort and trust.
Part of that means tailoring treatment to each individual. According to Nuñez, training staffs “fail” when they have an unwillingness to adapt.
“The main thing is working with the players and learning the athletes: their demeanors, behaviors, nuances — whatever makes them tick in a sense,” Nuñez said. “Every player’s completely different. You can’t take the same approach with one player that you do with another.”
Nuñez joined the Lakers in 2008, just in time to win NBA titles in both of his first two years with the team. The sports medicine field has evolved rapidly since then, but Nuñez has always made staying ahead of the curve one of his top priorities.
In addition to overseeing players’ rehabilitation and performing on-court procedures, Nuñez will be responsible for “year-round oversight of the care, prevention, and treatment of injuries to the players on the roster,” according to the team.
This means going through the never-ending process of researching and testing the newest products and methods that might benefit his players.
“I worked hard to get here; now the hardest part is staying here,” he said. “Staying up with technology and the latest rehabs — anything that’s out there that’s changing.”
Though he admits to some nerves when he was offered the new position, Nuñez is confident in his ability to fill Vitti’s spot at the end of the coaches’ bench.
“It’s something that I felt I’ve been preparing for, and I felt like I’ve been ready for some time already,” he said. “But at the same time, I’ve had to be patient. It’s something that you can’t just jump into. And I feel like this is probably the right time and right place.”
It’s been quite the journey to this time and place for Nuñez.
Following his graduation from Cal Poly Pomona with a B.S. in Kinesiology and an emphasis in Sports Medicine, he spent four seasons as the Assistant Trainer for the Arena Football League’s Los Angeles Avengers from 1999-2003. After one more year in the AFL as head Athletic Trainer with the Carolina Cobras, he returned to his hometown in the same capacity for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks from 2005-07.
Part of that time with the Sparks overlapped with being hired as Head Athletic Trainer for the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders, where he served from 2006-08 before being called up to Vitti’s side.
On his first day with the Lakers, Nuñez rushed out to tape a player’s knee that was hampered by tendinitis. Little did he know at the time, but he and that player, Luke Walton, would both be filling huge roles in the organization eight years later.
“He was the first guy that kind of officially welcomed me when I was an assistant trainer,” Nuñez said. “Now he’s the head coach and I’m his head trainer.”