131: Gary Vitti: Former Head Trainer of the Los Angeles Lakers from 1984-2016, Author of the book “32 Years of Titles and Tears From the Best Seat in the House”, shares stories of Shaq, Kobe, Magic, Kareem & others while experiencing the highs and lows while winning multiple championships.  What a life! 

December 27, 2019

Gary Vitti

Imagine becoming a head trainer in an era where there wasn’t a clear path to this position. Gary Vitti shares what it was like to navigate the world of sports during the 1970s and the 1980s. “I graduated from college in 1976, which means I went in ‘72 and although there has been athletic trainers around since the gladiators, a real major in athletic training at the college level, evidence-based practices of sports medicine really didn’t exist. There weren’t that many athletic training programs in the 70s. In terms of myself at that age at 18 years old I didn’t even know what an athletic trainer was.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Gary Vitti, Head Trainer of the Los Angeles Lakers, working with 13 different coaches and achieving eight championships. Gary Vitti discusses working toward wanting to work in academia for a Division I university to transitioning into the upper echelon of sports, training superstar NBA players like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Kobe Bryant, and James Worthy for one of the biggest franchises in sports history. “If Shaq decided he wanted to win every game, we would have won every game. That is how great he was. But he had a different thing in life. He didn’t care about being the best.”

What You Will Learn:

Gary Vitti talks about how the Lakers rolled out the red carpet for him to get the head athletic trainer position, including interviewing for six hours. “They sent me a first-class ticket. I’d never flown first class before. So that was pretty cool. Believe it or not, Jerry West picked me up at the airport in a navy blue Mercedes with tan interior. I had never been in a Mercedes before and Jerry West is driving. My childhood idol Jerry West picks me up at the airport, drives me to the fabulous Forum and it just happens to be that that day is the day that USA basketball was playing Spain for the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.” 

Gary Vitti discusses writing his book 32 Years of Titles and Tears From the Best Seat in the House that covers his experiences with the Los Angeles Lakers and sports science. “The book is a series of chapters about what I learned about happiness, greatness, and leadership. What Kobe taught me was that you can never have enough talent. But talent is the most overrated thing in life. What if I told you, are you ready for this? Kobe wasn’t that talented…Nobody worked harder than Kobe. But a lot of players work hard. In addition to working hard, Kobe worked intelligently. He was really smart about how he expended his energy.” 

Gary’s talks about Bill Sharman. “The Lakers played the Celtics and the Knicks I think seven times and could not win a championship until Bill Sharman showed up. So people that don’t know Bill Sharman, Bill Sharman is one of three people in the Hall of Fame, Nesmith Hall of Fame, that are in there as both a player and a coach. There are only three people that are in that way. He is also one of the only people that ever played professional baseball at the major league level and professional basketball. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Celtics.” 

Was it Pat Riley’s intensity or was it Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson’s intensity that created that dynamic that the Lakers had? “West took Riley out of the broadcast booth and made him an assistant coach. After West had actually won the championship in ‘80. So, they drafted Magic in ‘79, won the championship that same year 79-80, because it crosses the new year. Then going into the next year, they fire West and make Pat Riley the head coach. Then he brings in Bill Bertka. Then they go on to have basically the rest of the decade, for the most part, being on top. Winning 5 championships from 79’-89.”

Gary Vitti explains his major respect for Karrem Abdul Jabar’s athletic prowess and success. “I make a very strong argument in the book that Kareem Abdul Jabar may not only be the greatest basketball player that has ever played the game. But he may be the most successful athlete to ever walk the planet. If you look at what he has accomplished in sports from the time that he was a child, he has won everything. Everything that you could possibly win and he has done it multiple times. He was in the playoffs 18 times out of 20 years. He has six championships with two teams. When he retired, we never won again, until the Kobe/Shaq era. So, even though Magic was still playing, he didn’t win without Kareem.” 

Pieces of the Puzzle

Gary Vitti compares being on a team to a puzzle. “Being on a team like like being part of a puzzle. There are no extra pieces. If you are short a piece, then the puzzle is not complete, and you know there are no extra pieces. So you have to find your place in the puzzle and fit into that place. Many times, that means you have to sacrifice a piece of yourself to fit in the puzzle.”

The Test of One’s Character

During this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast with Gary Vitti, he also opens up about the troubling time when Magic Johnson came out publicly as being HIV positive. “The true test of one’s character is when things are going badly. Not when everything is going good. And the second thing was, as I said before, I bought into the American sports creed of there is winning and there is misery. I never considered that happiness really relies on not achieving what you are chasing, but being grateful for what you already have. And that begins with your health and that of your loved ones.” 

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