Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — He might be the most important member of the Utah Jazz organization that you've likely never heard of.
But before you ask "Who's that?" this unsung but very vital contributor to the NBA team's success is Gary Briggs — the team's head trainer, whose job it is to hopefully help prevent Jazz players from getting injured and, when they do get hurt, giving them the proper treatment and, if necessary, rehabilitation for their ailments so they can get back out on the court as soon as is safely possible.
"Trainers in the NBA wear so many different hats nowadays," said Briggs, who is wrapping up his 13th season with the Jazz after spending 18 seasons before that in the same capacity for the Cleveland Cavaliers, "mainly because in the old days, it was just the head coach and the trainer.
"I didn't have a full-time assistant for 14 years in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers were the first team to have a full-time strength coach back in 1984. Now everybody has a full-time strength coach, an assistant trainer, an equipment man, a traveling massage therapist and so forth.
"We've gone from traveling to the team hotel in a van to where now we need two buses, but you still have to manage it all," Briggs said. "We don't have to do as much hands-on stuff as we used to, but almost every trainer in the league handles travel as far as handing out boarding passes and tickets for travel, collecting baggage tags, things like that. But with team charters, it's the easiest thing going — they take the bags out and load 'em on the plane."
Briggs came to the Jazz almost 13 years ago in a somewhat fortuitous turn of events. A front-office shake up in Cleveland had just cost him his job — ironically, it was just a year after being voted by his peers as the league's 1999 Athletic Trainer of the Year — when he learned that the Jazz trainer was leaving to take a similar job with the Seattle SuperSonics.
"I got fired by the Cavs in May of 2000, interviewed with the Jazz in June of 2000 and got hired by the Jazz that September," he said.
Along the way since then, he's had many memorable experiences, including an opportunity to work with not only Sloan and Johnson but also franchise cornerstones John Stockton and Karl Malone during the final years of their stellar NBA careers.
Briggs admires the great way that Stockton and Malone always took care of themselves.
"Obviously, the first three years I was here, working with John and Karl, was a tremendous opportunity for me," he said. "For one thing, they never got out of shape. A lot of guys 'de-trained' during the offseason and then tried to get themselves in shape two weeks before the season started. You can't do that.
"Anybody who's had (an) extended career in this league like John and Karl did, almost every one of them never got out of shape," Briggs said. "They may have changed what they did in the offseason, but they never took it completely off. That constant back and forth is what breaks your body down."
In light of how many current NBA players will take a night off with minor aches, pains or hangnails, it seems, Briggs maintains tremendous admiration for the way Stockton and Malone insisted on playing hurt and very, very seldom ever missed a game.
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