Professional Sports

Checking in on the Lakers Athletic Training Room


Article reposted from
Author: Mike Trudell

Marco Nunez took over the position of Lakers Head Athletic Trainer from Gary Vitti last season and completed a year of generally good health from a roster of mostly young players.

We sat down with Nunez at the tail end of the team’s Summer League experience in Las Vegas to discuss where he wants to devote more focus leading into the 2017-18 campaign, what areas of emphasis he’s circled for the players and how it’s going working alongside new management on the basketball ops side.

Below is a transcription of our conversation:

MT: Where are you at this point compared to when you took over the job from Gary Vitti last August?
Nunez: My role is still continuing as is it has for the last year. The one thing about this summer is it’s allowing me to get my head together and see what I want to implement and begin for the coming season. Last year I took the position in August, and I didn’t really have time to sit down (and think). Getting one year under my belt, I was able to see the ins and the outs, what I like and don’t like, what I want to change or implement. This summer is about seeing what new techniques, new modalities, new units, new programs, new nutrition … whatever it is, I’ll sit down with our staff and figure out what to improve for this upcoming year.

MT: Is part of that sitting down with the new front office and deciding where to put resources?
Nunez: We’ve already done that. We’ve had plenty of meetings with Luke (Walton), Magic (Johnson), Rob Pelinka. Last year when all the changes were occurring, we just wanted to get through the season. Then at the end of the season, it’d be time to figure out what we want to do moving forward. So I’ve sat with them a bunch of times to discuss a variety of things. For example, talking about where we want to add staff members and what we’d want them to focus on.

MT: What’s one area of focus?
Nunez: There are a couple areas we’re looking at, like hiring a nutritionist or a dietician full time. We’ve had somebody in the past that we’ve used that was great, but I know it was almost like a consulting kind of thing. I think we’re trying to decide whether we should make that position full time. I don’t know if that position would travel full time or not, but having them right there at the practice facility where guys can ask questions, and our chef, Sandra, can work with them closely and try to see what we can create for the players could really help.

MT: How about dealing with and anticipating injuries, which is something I know is always on your mind…
Nunez: Exactly, we’re looking at different companies right now. There’s one company we tried out at summer league, keeping track of guys exertion levels, exhaustion levels, sleeping patterns and stuff like that. Everything is going towards technological (advancement), so we’re looking at a company that’s more of an app. These players will go right on their phones the minute a game is over. So the app would ask some simple questions that gives us feedback about how the players are feeling and where they’re at from that perspective. The other thing we’re doing focuses on hydration. In the past, it’s always been, ‘Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and getting plenty of electrolytes.’ Traditionally there’s the, ‘Hey when you use the restroom, check your urine color, and if it’s dark red or orange, it means you’re dehydrated. If it’s a light color, you’re good’, but we can go deeper than that. I know we’re working with GSSI, Gatorade Sports Science Institute; they came last year and tested most of our guys as far as sweat analysis and to try and create a hydration program for the guys. We’re testing that out in summer league to see how it works. Whether it’s advising how much water and electrolytes to drink six hours before a game, how much during a game and more importantly, after a game this is specifically how much water and Gatorade a specific player needs to consume. Especially on the road and for back to backs. We have to really focus on how our guys are recovering.

MT: How has the way you deal with these young players at Summer League evolved over the last several years?
Nunez: Back when I first started, we’d typically only have one or two draft picks at summer league because we were winning championships. This summer league team is different, with six draft picks that form part of the core of the roster (moving forward). So what we’re doing now and what Luke is trying to do is set a culture that will continue into training camp. Some of these one and done (in college) players aren’t used to having to come into the training room. Having to focus on stretching, on recovery, focus on hydration. We want to start those good habits now, not wait until training camp or the season to start.

MT: What kind of discussions did you have about how much to rest players in Vegas given that, on one hand, they’re young, but on the other, they aren’t used to playing so many games in so few nights?
Nunez: We had conversations about that with the coaches. Traditionally the mentality is they’re young guys, they can play as many minutes as you want. But that’s not always the case. These young guys aren’t used to playing this many minutes, especially on back to backs. You don’t play back to backs in college. Now they’re going to play back to back to back, exerting themselves? Personally I was a little surprised that we’d have guys playing back to backs. Ideally, it’d be nice if they got a Monday off and the game would have been Tuesday, but that’s a scheduling issue. From the sports medicine side, if you’re in the NBA Finals and it’s Game 6 or 7, and all your technology is showing you the player is in the red, are you really going to sit the guy? And there’s a difference between the NBA Finals and the Summer League. My job is to provide them the information and then as a unit, along with management and the coaches, we make a decision.

MT: How about in the example of Josh Hart, the rookie who sprained his ankle and didn’t get back onto the court?
Nunez: That’s my saying, ‘He isn’t really ready to play’ as much as the coaches or management would love to see him play. As much as a player says ‘I’m ready to go,’ it’s my job to hold a player back if I think he’s not. One, it’s summer league, so it’s a risk/reward thing. Does the risk supersede the reward? We’re trying to create a tradition of winning, but it’s still summer league. If it were the Finals, different story. He was doing a lot better after (a few days), and could he go out there and play some minutes? Probably. But the problem was, as far as rehab, there’s a progression that you want to see from 1-on-0, 1-on-1, 3-on-3 and eventually 5-on-5. Since we played so many games, we didn’t have a chance to practice, and Hart didn’t get an opportunity to play 5-on-5 in practice for me to be able to say, ‘He’s ready to go.’ The risk was higher than the reward.

MT: Lonzo Ball came into the Summer League out of his best basketball shape, as he played no 5-on-5 from the NCAA Tournament through the Draft. He said his legs felt heavy early, but he certainly looked better physically after getting the couple days between the second and third game he played. What have you thought of Ball’s physical progression?
Nunez: It wasn’t a surprise he’d be fatigued early after taking close to a month off. But I’m trying to get away from the whole cookie cutter program. Every player is slightly different, it’s never one size fits all. That’s something we’re looking for as we develop these programs and technologies to cater to the individual. You have some players like Kobe Bryant, who could generally play as many minutes as he wanted and be fine. There are others where you can’t make that same assumption.

Professional Sports

Lakers head athletic trainer Marco Nuñez did try this at home


Article reposted from ESPN
Author: Andrea Canales

The Los Angeles Lakers head trainer grew up a huge fan . . . of the Dodgers.

Big dreams aren’t limited to the athletes on a basketball court. Sometimes the people on the sidelines, like Lakers head athletic trainer Marco Nuñez, have big aspirations.

“Being an L.A. kid, I thought, Why can’t I work for the Lakers?” Nunez recalled. “If I want to work with the best, that should be my ultimate goal.”

His roots

Nuñez was raised as an L.A. Dodgers fan, living with his family in a residence on the corner of Adams and Vermont, less than a mile away from the Staples Center.

“When I was young, all I knew was baseball,” Nuñez explained. “My dad wasn’t a basketball or football fan. He grew up in Mexico, played in the Mexican league.”

When the Nuñez family went to Dodgers games, Marco’s father had a certain tradition.

“My dad would always take his radio with him, and he would listen to [Spanish-language broadcaster] Jaime Jarrin while we were watching the game,” said Nuñez.

When young Marco reached his teens, the Lakers became the first team he followed after he started playing basketball.

“I decided to venture out and explore other teams,” said Nuñez, who promptly checked out the TV schedule for Lakers games and then set aside time to watch the team and learn the nuances of the game. “I knew the Lakers were a huge team in L.A.”

He became a fan of the Lakers, yet Nuñez stayed true to his first love of baseball, lettering in the sport at Bishop Mora Salesian High School in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of L.A.

“Basketball was a weekend-warrior thing,” Nuñez acknowledged.

His influence

When Nuñez started college at Cal Poly Pomona, he was motivated partly by representing his Hispanic roots in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field of civil engineering.

“There weren’t that many Latinos in engineering,” Nuñez pointed out. “I did it about a year and a half, and I didn’t like it. I was trying to figure out what else to do.”

Once again, Nuñez struck out on his own to discover what really appealed to him. He found it when he attended a lecture given by Ky Kugler.

“I give [athletic training talks] and do a lot of recruitment and mentoring,” said Kugler, now a professor of athletics training at Chapman University.

Nuñez was immediately intrigued by how Kugler described his profession, emphasizing that communication skills and empathy are as important as kinesthetic knowledge.

“The individuals that you work with have to know that you have a vested interest in their safety.” Kugler said. “People don’t care how much you know if you don’t care about them first.”

“[Kugler] invited me to shadow him for a week,” Nuñez recalled. “After that time, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Kugler, who noted he has also mentored Jasen Powell, the current head athletic trainer of local rival Los Angeles Clippers, says Nuñez was committed once he chose the career.

“I’m proud that I had a small investment in his future and that he recalled the talk that I gave,” Kugler said. “He stayed the course with the Lakers.”

Nuñez put in time as an athletic trainer for the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders, as well as the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks and the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League. Still, working for the Lakers remained the ultimate objective.

“My goal was the top professional level,” explained Nuñez. “Being from Southern California, why wouldn’t I want to work where I lived and grew up?”

“Everywhere we go, I try to find good Mexican food. It’s tough in Milwaukee.”

Marco Nuñez, head athletic trainer, Los Angeles Lakers

In the 2008-09 season, Nuñez joined the Lakers staff as an assistant athletic trainer, working under Gary Vitti. Vitti has a well-established reputation, serving as head athletic trainer for 32 years and recommending Nuñez as his replacement before departing last year.

“If you have longevity in a position, you develop relationships with people,” Kugler, a close friend of Vitti’s, observed. “Athletic trainers are a sounding board … a go-between [for] athletes and the coaching staff. They become a confidant. They do a lot of role-modeling. They do a lot of mentoring along the way.”

His trust

Players trust Nuñez to help whenever they need it. Lakers forward Julius Randle passed Nuñez the phone when his fiancée, Kendra Shaw, called after the pregnant Shaw felt faint one day while the team was on a road trip across the country. Nuñez, who has three children of his own, spoke to Shaw, calming her down by assuring her that dizziness was a normal symptom before labor. He then helped arrange a flight for Randle to return quickly to his fiancée’s side. A healthy Kyden Randle was born on December 23, 2016.

“The one big thing I learned from Gary was that you’re kind of a big brother to them,” Nuñez said. “The trust is there, not just for the medical, but with every aspect.”

Still, there are limits.

“As head trainer, I have to keep that professional distance,” explained Nuñez. “You won’t see me at the club.”

Instead, he usually bonds with players by sharing meals on the road.

“Everywhere we go, I try to find good Mexican food,” Nuñez mentioned. “It’s tough in Milwaukee.”

Though it isn’t easy being away from his family, especially on holidays, history buff Nuñez also appreciates the opportunities travel with the team offers.

“We go check out the local sites,” Nuñez noted. “In Philadelphia, I went to see Independence Hall.”

His profession

There’s a lot of pressure involved in any position of such a high-profile team as the Lakers, but especially on the person who often decides if the players can perform in a game or not. Too often, competitive players are willing to risk making an injury worse by continuing to play.

“The higher level an athlete is and the more money that is involved, sometimes they become their own worst enemy when it comes to health care,” Kugler opined. “They have high-level salaries and status in society, and they’ll do a lot of things to protect that.”

It helps Nuñez to have a good working relationship with Lakers head coach Luke Walton, one that goes back to Walton’s time as a player when Nuñez first joined the organization. In one of his first acts of employment, Nuñez taped Walton’s knee, which suffered from tendinitis. Nuñez never forgot Walton speaking appreciatively to him and welcoming him to the team.

“I was never good enough as a player to get Gary Vitti’s time,” Walton said on the show Backstage Lakers. “He was reserved for Kobe [Bryant], Pau [Gasol], Lamar [Odom]. So it was me and Nuñez grinding away in the training room.”

“He got the job as head coach before I got the trainer job,” Nuñez revealed, mentioning how knowing Walton would lead the team motivated him even more. “I thought, ‘I have to get the head trainer job.'”

Now the two interact on a daily basis, working together to get the most out of the Lakers roster.

“Every morning, we discuss the status of every player,” Nuñez said. “We’re in constant communication.”

“The travel, the hours, do they sometimes stink — yes,” Kugler said, before praising the perseverance of Nuñez as an athletic trainer. “Marco is a great example. He went through many, many stops and long hours. You have to have a passion for what you do.”

Professional Sports

Lakers’ Marco Nuñez adapting to role as team’s head athletic trainer


Article reposted from San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Author: Mark Medina

As Marco Nuñez plopped into a booth in a Miami restaurant, it marked his first spare moment after grabbing 3-1/2 hours of sleep.

The previous night in Charlotte, Nuñez, in his first season as the Lakers head athletic trainer, treated Larry Nance Jr. after the reserve forward injured his left knee. Soon after, Nuñez scheduled Nance’s MRI for the next day before joining the team for the flight to Miami. Nuñez arrived late to the airport (1:30 a.m.), the hotel (3:30 a.m.) and his bed (4:30 a.m.).

Nuñez then woke up at 8 a.m. to finalize Nance’s MRI visit, secure a bus for practice and treat other players. Nuñez stayed busy after practice, taking Nance to his MRI appointment, awaiting the results and consulting with doctors. Nuñez then informed Nance, his agent and the Lakers about the bone bruise in Nance’s left knee that would sideline him for four weeks. Around 9 p.m., Nuñez finally ate dinner.

This schedule during a trip in late December captured Nuñez’s typical workload in that entails both treating injured players and handling logistics with the team’s travel. As the Lakers near the end of the 2016-17 season, Nuñez has grown accustomed to juggling various responsibilities during his first season as the Lakers’ head athletic trainer.

There have been a lot of days like this for Nuñez, in his first season in this role.

“I don’t know if I’ve had time to sit down and say what I like or don’t like,” Nuñez said. “I have hit the ground running. I’m just glad to keep going.”

Nuñez, who joked that he would have preferred sleeping in before practice then enjoying the beach, has refused to relax, though. To prepare for his “dream job,” Nuñez shortened his August vacation from two weeks to three days.

“About 30 years from now, I might regret doing that,” Nuñez said. “But at the moment, it felt like it was the right thing to do.”

When he joined the Lakers’ training staff for the 2008-09 season, Nunez wanted to prove himself worthy of being the future successor to Gary Vitti, the Lakers’ longtime head athletic trainer. Nuñez also declined opportunities to go elsewhere, including when the Lakers laid off part of their training staff to save money during the 2011 lockout. After Nuñez received an offer from another NBA team, the Lakers retained him.

“I wanted to come back here,” Nuñez said. “This was my goal.”

So, Nuñez became what Vitti called his “right-hand guy.” Vitti groomed and recommended him to become his successor once he retired last season, capping a 32-year stint during which Vitti kept the Lakers’ multi-million dollar players healthy enough to win eight NBA championships in 12 Finals appearances while also handling all of the team’s travel arrangements.

The nature of that relationship has since changed.

Vitti has remained under contract as an athletic training consultant. But since the Lakers fired longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive Jim Buss on Feb. 21, Vitti has not been at any practices or home games. Vitti declined to comment about his lack of attendance and referred questions to the Lakers.

Team spokesperson Alison Bogli said Vitti remains welcome at games and at the facility. Bogli added that Lakers GM Rob Pelinka is evaluating Vitti’s role in various technology projects. Those have included talking with software engineers and analytics firms, meeting with vendors about wearable sensors and sneaker microchips, examining SportVU data and exploring trends in sports medicine and nutrition.

“I worked more than half of my life with the Lakers and look in the mirror and feel good about what I have given them,” Vitti said. “I gave them everything I had every single day. I will forever be grateful to (the late Lakers owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss, a man I believe exemplified the most important human values in honesty, kindness and loyalty. It’s Jeanie (Buss’) team. It’s not my team. There’s nothing I can do. She’ll do what is best for the team.”

As for Nuñez, Vitti said, “He hasn’t had a shortage of stuff to deal with. He’s had a lot for a first-year guy. He’s gotten slammed. I don’t think he’s come up for air yet.”


Vitti’s retirement party at Petros in Manhattan Beach last April showed Nuñez something as valuable as when he watched Vitti heal players.

Lakers luminaries expressed their affection for Vitti. Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott, Derek Fisher, A.C. Green and Mitch Kupchak were all in attendance, and that had more to do with the bond Vitti forged than it did with healing their wounds.

“That’s when it hit me,” Nuñez said. “I can be a great trainer. I can rehab a guy. I can treat a guy. I can tape a guy. But if I don’t have that trust or relationship with these players, this whole thing doesn’t really work.”

That played out in different ways for Vitti as a “contemporary” during the Showtime Era and a “father figure” in later decades.

Vitti and Johnson bonded over their charming personalities. Vitti then became one of Johnson’s confidants when he tested positive for HIV. Vitti and former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal used to “fight all the time” over his work habits. The tension diminished when O’Neal showed his playfuness. While marveling at Kobe Bryant’s determination to play through pain, Vitti often tried to protect Bryant from himself.

Through those circumstances, Vitti followed two rules. He told players, “I will never lie to you, but I will never lie for you.” He told the Lakers’ front office, “You’ll know what you need to know. But if you don’t need to know it, you’re not going to know it.”

“If you have a superstar on your team and he is the best person, it makes life a lot easier. But if your superstar makes life difficult, that’s tough,” Vitti said. “(Marco) hasn’t had that test yet. But when it comes his way, as uncomfortable as it is, you have to stand up for what you believe.”

Still, Vitti observed Nuñez already has cultivated “good, solid relationships with all the players.” First-year Lakers coach Luke Walton added Nuñez has done “a phenomenal job” in managing a roster that has dealt with its share of injuries.

“Everything about him is really professional,” said second-year guard D’Angelo Russell, who has dealt with injuries to both knees this season. “He takes his time and pays attention to everything. Everything was hands on. He didn’t need to pass me to an assistant.”

Nuñez has fulfilled that job description with a blend of sympathy and humor.

When the Lakers initially suspected veteran guard Nick Young strained his right Achilles tendon against New Orleans in late November, Nuñez comforted Young. Once an MRI revealed a strained calf that would sideline Young for a far shorter window (six games), Nuñez jokingly teased Young for exaggerating the pain.

“Gary likes to talk. He’s a big-time storyteller. Marco likes to crack jokes more,” Young said. “It’s been great. He knows the balance between keeping guys healthy and being funny.”

While helping Nance heal his left knee amid a minutes restriction, Nuñez also accommodated Nance’s request to keep after him about cold tub recovery when he returned to the court.

“There’s a few times I hate the cold tub. So I know if it’s up to me, I won’t do it,” Nance said. “I trust him to do that for me. He’s done a good job with it.”

When the Lakers spent three days in Charlotte in December, he encouraged Julius Randle to fly home to Los Angeles to support his fiancée, Kendra Shaw, who was expecting their first child, Kyden. Nuñez also arranged a flight for Randle later that week from Miami to Los Angeles to witness his son’s birth.

“He cares about us,” Randle said of Nuñez. “He did an amazing job taking care of me, my fiancée and my whole situation with my baby. He made sure everything was OK when I was on the road.”


During his sophomore year at Cal Poly Pomona, Nuñez heard former head athletic trainer Ky Kugler deliver a keynote speech that emphasized what he called the “four P’s,” in preparation, poise, patience and perseverance. Once the speech ended, Nuñez introduced himself to Kugler and shared how that speech fueled his ambitions to become a head athletic trainer. Nuñez then changed majors from civil engineering to kinesiology.

“It sounds like (those qualities) defined Marco’s career. That was evident since I’ve known him,” Kugler said. “I thought he was always going to be successful.”

Nuñez carried out Kugler’s vision with a sports athletic training internship at Mount San Antonio Community College and Pasadena City College. He then had a short stint with the Long Beach Ice Dogs (1998), before taking on an assistant trainer role with the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League (1999-2002).

During that time, Nuñez saw several aspects of an industry where job security can be tenuous. After an Avengers player scolded him for taping his ankles poorly, Nuñez gathered friends as test subjects so he could perfect that job. Nuñez improved in his craft quickly enough that former Avengers head athletic trainer Brian Nguyen often deferred his workload to Nuñez.

As Nuñez’s responsibilities grew, he developed a more light-hearted relationship with players. He played pranks by pouring a bucket of ice water on players on their birthdays, and players nicknamed him “Blinkie” in reference to his constant eye twitching.

“It says something that is very endearing when people know your mannerisms like that,” Nguyen said, laughing. “Marco truly cares as an athletic trainer both with his job and working with people.”

That’s why Nguyen recruited Nuñez in 2003 for another project. After producers of the movie, “The Longest Yard,” hired Nguyen to treat actor Adam Sandler on set, Nguyen hired Nuñez to handle the rest of the cast, including the likes of former professional wrestler Steve Austin, rapper Nelly and former NFL player Michael Irvin.

While filming in Santa Fe, N.M., Nuñez’s most memorable experiences involved his time handling Irvin – an early test of his ability to handle star players nursing injuries.

After he tweaked his hamstring during a game of pickup basketball, Irvin asked Nuñez a pointed question.

“If I go out there, can I make it worse?” Irvin asked.

“Yeah, you could aggravate it,” Nuñez answered.

Irvin lightly slapped Nuñez s face. Irvin then repeated his question.

“If I go out there, can I make it worse?” Irvin asked.

“No,” Nuñez said. “You’ll be fine.”

After Nuñez treated Irvin’s hamstring, the Hall of Famer finished the scene without making his injury worse. In between laughs, Nunez said that anecdote isn’t about him caving to a demanding athlete.

“He knows his body,” Nuñez said of Irvin. “They know the risk.”

Soon after, the uncertainty of the industry cost Nuñez his job with the Avengers because Health South, his employer, experienced financial issues. Nunez landed another AFL job a short time later, but his time with the Carolina Cobras ended a year later for the same reasons.

“That was two years in a row where I felt I got screwed,” Nuñez said. “I got to a point where I thought there’s too much politics and too much BS. I think I’m done.”

Actually, Nuñez was just getting started.

In 2004, Clive. E Brewster, a former regional manager with the Kerlan Jobe Orthopedic Clinic, recommended the WNBA’s Sparks interview Nuñez for their vacant head athletic training position.

“All of a sudden, he was left out in the cold. But if you’re good at what you do, something will fall,” Brewster said. “When you’re good people, things like that don’t affect you.”

Nuñez took the Sparks job for the 2005-2006 season, then joined the D-Fenders, the Lakers’ Development league affiliate, afterward. It wasn’t long before Nuñez remarked to Nguyen he hoped to become the Lakers’ head athletic trainer someday.

“When I was in college, my goal was to get to this level,” Nuñez said. “But now that I’m here, I may as well keep going.”


Vitti initially cringed upon hearing about Nuñez’s longtime aspirations.

“If your goal is to be the head athletic trainer of the Lakers and you never get there, does that mean you’ll be unhappy where you are the rest of your life?” Vitti said. “You have to be very careful of making that such a priority.”

Nonetheless, Nuñez quickly proved he wasn’t about ego. With the rest of the Lakers’ training staff treating other players, Walton asked Nuñez to tape his ankles before a practice at the beginning of the 2008-09 season. Once Nuñez finished, Walton uttered a few memorable words to Nuñez.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Walton said. “You’re a great fit into our system.”

Those words made Nuñez feel “reassured that I do belong here.”

“Luke is a guy that you want to go that extra mile for and you want to make sure he succeeds,” Nuñez said. “He just has that personality that makes you feel like you are part of the team.”

Walton laughed about the anecdote before acknowledging a foggy memory. Nonetheless, Walton called Nuñez a “good ankle taper.”

“He was great, easy to talk to and knows his stuff,” Walton said. “That’s when you build trust with a trainer. It’s not if he’s funny, but if he knows his stuff and knows how to fix you. He’s very knowledgeable, works hard and is a good communicator.”

Building on those qualities, Nuñez’s role grew.

He continued to observe Vitti closely in the training room, most notably how he handled Bryant and the star’s ability to play through injuries.

When Bryant fractured the right index finger of his right hand during the 2009-10 season, Nuñez admired how Bryant never missed a game and abstained from surgery. Shortly after the injury happened, Nuñez watched Bryant’s shooting routine while wearing a new splint. After missing a few shots, Bryant tinkered with the splint and his form before finding his stroke again.

“He already had gotten to the point where he figured out how to adjust and adapt to his new injury,” Nuñez said of Bryant. “That’s Kobe. That’s what great athletes do. They figure it out.”

Nuñez has since tried to figure out his niche with the Lakers.

Vitti estimated in the past three or four years he had delegated more of the treatment responsibilities to Nuñez, so he could spend more time entering information in the Electronic Medical Record (EMR). Nuñez took on inventory and purchasing of most of the medical supplies to ease Vitti’s workload.

Meanwhile, Vitti instructed Nuñez to keep both a backup battery and portable charger on his phone since he spends nearly 70 percent of his day on it coordinating with the front office, players and doctors. Vitti also advised Nuñez on how to help the Lakers’ coaching staffs manage their timeouts.

As the season winds to a close, Nuñez has done his part to keep the Lakers’ roster healthy while navigating the potential pitfalls of their demanding travel schedule. Nuñez says his dream job has all been worth it, even if the responsibilities have left him little time to sleep.

Professional Sports

CSUF Alumna Joins LA Lakers’ Athletic Training Team


Article reposted from CSUF College of Health and Human Development
Author: CSUF College of Health and Human Development

When the Los Angeles Lakers tip-off the start of their 2016-17 season this October, College of Health and Human Development alumna Nina Hsieh will be watching closely from the coach’s bench. Hsieh, together with Head Athletic Trainer Marco Nuñez, is responsible for guarding the health of the Lakers’ most valuable asset: their players.

The kinesiology graduate was named Assistant Athletic Trainer for the legendary basketball club, one of only a few women to serve a professional sports team in this capacity.  In this role, Hsieh is charged with the prevention, care, and treatment of player injuries. She’ll also provide emergency procedures on the court and post-injury rehabilitation.

Hsieh considers her team off the court when reflecting on her accomplishment. “This opportunity isn’t just for me. It’s for all the people that have put in time to help me get here, from people in the industry to friends and family that have sacrificed a lot for me.”

Like most athletic trainers, Hsieh discovered her profession through a lifelong love of sports. The College of Health and Human Development’s Athletic Training Program (ATP) was an easy choice for the Huntington Beach resident thanks in part to ATP professor Julie Max — a trailblazer in the field who serves as Cal State Fullerton’s Head Athletic Trainer and previously served two terms as president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.

Hsieh completed her studies in 2000 and landed an internship at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where she focused on astronaut and staff member rehabilitation. She then entered the sports healthcare master’s program at the Arizona School of Health Sciences while serving as Assistant Athletic Trainer at Central Arizona College (2001-02) and Phoenix College (2002-03). In 2004, Hsieh joined the athletics department at UC Santa Barbara as Athletic Trainer for the women’s basketball team and later, the men’s soccer team. The Lakers took notice and signed her as Head Athletic Trainer for the Los Angeles D-Fenders in 2008, the Lakers’ NBA D-League affiliate. Hsieh saw the D-Fenders through seven season and two championship appearances before moving up to her current position.

She may now help the Lakers score their 17th NBA title.

“Nina is a fine young lady who has worked tremendously hard to get to this level. The Lakers made a smart choice when they hired her. Many people would love to have her job but few will do the hard work that it takes to get there and stay there,” says ATP Director Dr. Robert Kersey.

The Lakers’ aren’t the only professional sports team with a Titan on its roster. Ivan Pierra, ATP class of 1993, attended the 2014 World Cup games in Brazil as Head Athletic Trainer for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team before joining the LA Galaxy as the club’s sports medicine department director. The Chicago Bulls tapped 1999 ATP graduate Armando Rivas for its Assistant Athletic Trainer spot two years ago.  Larnie Boquiren helped the U.S. Women’s Water Polo team bring home Olympic gold at this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro after completing her studies in 2004.

The College of Health and Human Development’s ATP program has prepared students for careers as certified athletic trainers since 1973. Every year, more than 50 aspiring athletic trainers compete for the program’s eight available spots. Once admitted, students receive classroom instruction and hands-on training in numerous labs including the Titan Athletic Training Clinic, where the university’s athletes come for rehabilitation work. The ATP first-time pass rate for the athletic training certification exam has been 95.5% for the last three years. The average national pass rate for first-time attempts is 82.7%.

Professional Sports

LA Native Nuñez Takes Over as Head Athletic Trainer


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.”


Marco Nunez to Replace Gary Vitti as Lakers AT


Article reposted from The Los Angeles Times
Author: Mike Bresnahan

The Lakers have found a replacement for longtime athletic trainer Gary Vitti, who retired after 32 years.

Marco Nunez will take over for Vitti after logging nine years as the Lakers’ assistant athletic trainer, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Before that, Nunez, 40, worked a total of three years with the L.A. Sparks and L.A. D-Fenders.

Vitti lobbied for Nunez to get the Lakers job because of Nunez’s familiarity with the team’s training staff and techniques.

Vitti was part of eight championship teams and 12 trips to the NBA Finals. He will remain with the team for two more years as a consultant.

Professional Sports

Kobe’s Thank You to Gary Vitti


Fittingly, two of the Lakers’ most legendary figures, Kobe Bryant and Gary Vitti, are heading out at the same time.

In his 20-year career — which ends with Wednesday’s game against Utah — Bryant’s health has always been under the watch of Vitti, who is also retiring after a 32-year career that included eight championships.

Whether it was food poisoning in Sacramento or an ankle injury in Indiana, Vitti has mended Bryant over and over for the past two decades. At the end of both men’s tenure, Bryant showed his thanks for Vitti by autographing a photo of the two of them walking through Oakland County International Airport after a road game against Detroit on Dec. 2, 2014.

Bryant also left a message for his trainer: “To Gary, You are the best! Thank you for always having my back and showing me how to act like a pro! I love you and appreciate you more than you will ever know.”


Professional Sports

Athletic Trainer Gary Vitti, almost literally the glue that held Lakers together


The table in the Lakers‘ locker room is filled with two dozen glazed offerings from an iconic nearby doughnut shop.

Gary Vitti knows the rookies have been sent by the veterans to buy them, a battle he can’t win, so he puts up an adjacent sign that says “cardiac risk,” an almost daily reminder that doughnuts probably aren’t the healthiest things.

It is 1984, Vitti’s first year as the Lakers’ athletic trainer. Times are a little different back then.

Thirty-two years later, he’s ready to retire. He’ll be honored during Sunday’s game against Boston, an apropos opponent if ever there was one.

Vitti, 61, came to fame as the mustachioed man near the front of the bench in the Lakers’ “Showtime” era. He still wears his 1987 championship ring (it came against the Celtics) and talks reverently of the 1985 title (also against the Celtics).

He was part of eight NBA championships and 12 NBA Finals, quite a run for any employee of any team.

A devout student of ancient history, he says simply, “It’s the right time” to retire, cognizant of the franchise’s rough three-year run.

“If you look at the Lakers as the Roman Empire, that’s what we were,” he said in an interview. “After the fall of the Roman Empire were the Dark Ages. That’s where we’ve been.”

After that came the Renaissance, Vitti continued, followed by the Age of Enlightenment.

“That’s where we’re going,” he said. “I got us through the Dark Ages but now somebody’s got to take over. There will be a rebirth. This franchise will come back.”

When Vitti joined the Lakers, there were 12 players, two coaches and one trainer. Now there are 15 players, nine coaches and six training-staff members.

Nutrition has advanced beyond the two cases of soda and case of beer available after every game.

“And I used to put them there,” Vitti said with his typical humorous touch.

The Lakers are now apt to consume digestion-aiding probiotic drinks with a slightly different type of fermentation compared to the old days.

Grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and humanely raised pork are encouraged. Potato chips are available only if prepared in avocado oil.

When Vitti started, the Lakers played at the Forum and practiced at a number of spots, usually Loyola Marymount. There was a set time the team could use the gym, and there was no going past it if LMU’s volleyball or basketball teams were scheduled to practice after the Lakers.

“It was just that simple. We had to be out,” Vitti said.

There were times the team couldn’t get the gym, which meant practicing at the Inglewood YMCA, Inglewood High or L.A. Southwest College before the Lakers’ current El Segundo training facility opened in 2000.

“We literally were vagabonds,” said Vitti, a one-man training staff at the time. “When I took the job, [general manager] Jerry West asked me if I had a truck or a van. I said no. He said, ‘Well, you’re going to need one.'”

Vitti bought a discounted vehicle from the team automotive sponsor and lugged around large bags of training equipment and a bulky TV in a custom-built trunk so the team could watch game video.

Vitti’s staff gradually grew to include an equipment manager, strength and conditioning coach, assistant trainer, massage therapist and physical therapist.

Over the years, fewer players have been closer to him then Kobe Bryant.

As Bryant came of age in the 2000 playoffs, he sustained an ankle injury and missed Game 3 of the NBA Finals against Indiana. The Lakers’ lead was cut to 2-1.

Bryant, who also will retire after the season, recently reflected on the day before Game 4.

“I could barely walk and [Vitti] is molding my ankle and all of a sudden you just heard this loud pop,” he said. “We just looked at each other and said ‘OK, this is either really good or really bad.’

“I started walking around and I said, ‘Damn, you fixed it!’ I was able to finish the series,” with the Lakers winning in six games.

Vitti won’t miss road games that take him away from his wife, Martha, and adult daughters Rachel and Emilia. He’ll be a Lakers consultant the next two years but spend much more time at his Manhattan Beach home.

He has no regrets, though he’ll miss the home games, especially the “mini-relationships” he’s made.

He mentions locker-room attendants, Staples Center security guards, popcorn hawkers, media members and the parking valet among others.

“They become part of the fabric of the arena,” he said. “There’s all these multitudes of relationships that you don’t even know you have until you start realizing, ‘Hey, I’m not going to see these people anymore.’ I’m going to miss that.”


Professional Sports

Gary Vitti is another longtime Laker who’s retiring


Gary Vitti isn’t the face of the Lakers franchise. He’s the one fixing it up if an errant elbow gets thrown.

He’s also retiring after this season, though not as many people know it. Take Kobe Bryant‘s 20-year NBA career, add 12 and you get Vitti’s years of service as the Lakers’ athletic trainer.

The road has become familiar, if not a little wearisome, for Vitti, who has experienced 12 NBA Finals and eight championships since joining the Lakers in 1984.

This season has been tough for everybody on the team. Vitti is not immune, despite the almost impeccable physical health of the team through one-fourth of the season, Bryant’s sapped legs notwithstanding.

The Lakers (3-18) are off to their worst start ever through 21 games.

“I’ve always heard players say, ‘I just want to win one and then I can retire.’ I’ve always thought the opposite. Winning makes you want to stick around and stay longer in the NBA. It’s the losing that wears you out,” Vitti said.

Like most people, Vitti talks about the Lakers in two distinct segments — the young players and Bryant. Even though D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle were just dropped to reserve status, Vitti likes what he sees of them, along with Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and little-known Anthony Brown.

“As bad as our win-loss record is, I really like these kids,” he said. “It’s the first time in my career I’ve had all these rookies. They do work hard. They want to be good. Our record is not from lack of effort.”

He reserved some biting humor for Bryant. Two decades of knowing each other allows plenty of leeway.

Vitti chuckled at Bryant’s apparent surprise when the retiring All-Star said, “I thought everybody hated me,” after bathing in the warmth of adoring road crowds.

“They do hate him,” Vitti said. “He shouldn’t confuse respect with love. I think they really respect what he does on the basketball court and they’re showing that respect back.

“I think it was the same thing with Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]. He was never very loved but on his final tour he got a standing ovation in every city we went to. He was respected as a true champion and I think that’s the same thing with Kobe.”

Vitti, 61, will remain with the team as a consultant for two years after this season but will soon be done traveling as a full-timer.

He tries to remember the franchise’s strong points, when seasons came down to successful Game 7s, not lottery draws. He embraces the parallel of leaving at the same time as Bryant.

“He’s like me. We started here. We’ll finish here,” Vitti said. “I don’t want to go out like this either. It’s just the way it ended up. We talk more about all the great stuff that happened than what’s happening right now.”

Of all the aches and pains Bryant overcame, one stood out in Vitti’s mind — when Bryant was sick in Sacramento for a playoff game against the Kings in 2002. The culprit might have been a bacon cheeseburger or cheesecake ordered for room service. Or maybe it was simply a viral illness, Vitti said.

Vitti remembered the effort even though the Lakers lost and Bryant made nine of 21 shots.

“He was curled up like a cooked shrimp,” Vitti said. “You know when your stomach is cramping so bad, you can’t even straighten out? That was him.”

As the Lakers near the end of an eight-game trip, their longest since 2008, it’s easy for Vitti to remember how the team used to travel.

Long before charter flights, the Lakers piled into commercial planes. Jerry Buss, the late owner of the team, tried to fly everybody in first class but some players had to go in coach class because of lack of seats.

There was a pecking order — veterans in first class, rookies in the cheaper seats — but that’s not what Vitti remembered about the players in coach class.

“Dr. Buss was so generous that he would buy three seats for two guys so they could sit in the aisle and window with nobody in the middle,” Vitti said. “People were angry sometimes, would say they were empty seats. Well, they really weren’t empty. We bought them. Paid full price for them.”

Vitti will soon tape his last ankle. His days of sitting in the first seat on the Lakers’ bench are almost over.

Like Bryant, he’s at peace with his decision.

“Thirty-two years is a good run, you know?” he said.

Follow Mike Bresnahan on Facebook and Twitter @Mike_Bresnahan