Written by: Derek Opina
He is the man who has more NBA championships than Kobe, Michael and Magic. He is the longest tenured athletic trainer in the NBA and one of the best in all of professional sports. He is Gary Vitti, long time Head Athletic Trainer for the L.A. Lakers, and his services have helped the Lakers win eight championships since he started working for them in the 1984-85 season.
He’s worked on every player to put on a Laker uniform since then, including Magic, Shaq, Kobe, Kareem and Worthy. Not to mention he’s had the two youngest players ever drafted in the NBA in Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum.
Last Saturday Vitti was honored not only for his going-on-28 seasons with the Lakers, but for all the work he does with Team HEAL (Helping Enrich Athletes Lives), a non-profit organization dedicated to getting full time athletic trainers into understaffed high schools. Team HEAL aims to protect the health and future of student athletes.
“Gary’s always been a friend,” says Dr. Clarence L. Shields, founder of Team HEAL. “Every year at the end of the season when he got equipment that was going to be replaced he would call and say, ‘I have some things to donate to Team HEAL.’ And each year he’s done more and more things to help enrich the students lives.”
The event also honored Nestle VP of Community Affairs Kenneth Bentley and awarded five scholarships to college students that were affected by Team HEAL while in high school.
“Team HEAL was there for me,” says scholarship recipient and UCLA student Karina De Anda. “They helped me strengthen my ankle….and continue playing. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have known what to do.”
“It’s always amazing that the kids will say, ‘are you sure that this was at the Laker training facility?'” adds Shields. “And I say ‘yes it was. You don’t know how special you are to be able to have the same treatment that Kobe did.'”
Vitti received the award with his wife Marta, niece Ashleigh, sister-in-law Patty and other family members in attendance.
“What it means is that I want to double my effort for the next year,” said Vitti. “This award is for what we’ve already done. Now what else are we gonna do? That’s past tense. Let’s start talking about what’s gonna happen this next year.”