When Gary Vitti first interviewed for the job, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the star Lakers players for coach Pat Riley. It was 1984, and Vitti wasn’t sure he wanted the job.
He took it and for 32 years has been the Lakers trainer and confidant to players. Magic, Kareem, through Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, to the current crop of Lakers. He’s lasted through Riley, Phil Jackson, Mike D’Antoni and every other coach to come through the doors. He’s got eight championship rings.
And after this next season, the dean of NBA trainers is walking away. Hanging up his tape, as it were.
Vitti, a part of the Laker fabric, talked about it with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.
“From a basketball standpoint, the greatest championship would be 1985, the first time we beat Boston,” Vitti said as he slowly consumed an open-faced gyro at an upscale Manhattan Beach restaurant near his home. “We lost to the Celtics the year before and should have beat them. A lot of my interview with Riley was him talking about that. He said to me, ‘We need to win.'”
Vitti has had a special place within the Lakers. He’s a liaison between the players and coaches/front office. He sits close to Byron Scott on the bench. It’s a job he has grown into and is passionate about. When the Lakers health fortunes turned on the team in the past few years, some of the louder than smart Lakers fans online blamed Vitti. Wiser fans knew that what happened to Steve Nash’s nerves, Kobe’s Achilles, Julius Randle’s leg, and on down the list were not on the training staff.
Vitti could have stayed on as long as he wanted. But it’s time, he said.
“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.”
If Vitti ever writes a biography of his time with the team, that will be a must read.