Carrying the Can for the Clippers
By Mark Woods
Most tourists can visit Russia with one piece of luggage. Possibly two. Pete Serrano? Try up to 200. And that’s not including soap. NBA clubs don’t travel light, not when they’re holding training camp half-way across the world in temperatures which, to put it mildly, are just a touch chillier than home.
The Los Angeles Clippers equipment manager will take it all in his stride. Just as he does when he gets that tap on the shoulder from a player or coach needing that elusive item – a minute ago. It’s a job which combines the skill of a concierge, a baggage handler and Boy Scout, seven days a week and sometimes even 24 hours a day.
Serrano doesn’t mind. He’s been doing it since he was 15 and there’s very little he hasn’t been asked to do in a 22 year career in the league. It’s a role which goes largely unseen by the fans and the media but without which there would be no team, no games, no nothing.
“You have to pack all the medical supplies for the trainers, all the video equipment, whatever the coaches need,” he explains. “And on top of that all their personal items. You maybe have 150-200 items to oversee from the time you get to the airport to the time you get to a hotel. That’s pretty demanding.”
“This whole season I had four days off. One was Christmas and the other three were during the All Star break when the league shuts down. Even in summer, I’m ordering things and sorting out things for our summer league. Players always need something or coaches. It’s ongoing.”
“The best part for me though is at the end, when you come back from a long trip and it’s gone OK. I have my hands on everything that we use on a given day to make this basketball team. The accomplishment is getting that done, without any problems.”
Taking Mike Dunleavy’s entire squad and its back-up personnel to Russia for the NBA Europe Live Games in October will be something new though. The Clippers will prepare for the new campaign in the Russian capital while playing two exhibition games against CSKA Moscow and BC Khimki Moscow.
“I’ve been working on it all summer,” Serrano reveals. “We have special uniforms we’re wearing just for those two games and we’ve got some other stuff for Russia. I’ve done overseas games before, in Japan and Mexico City. So I know what to expect with the packing even though it’s still a challenge. What makes it unique is that it’s one of the coldest times of the year there. So I have to foresee what that will be like.”
Elton Brand and company better bring their gloves and scarves. Or rather Serrano will ensure they are transported from the sunshine of Los Angeles or to the chill of Northern Europe. Part of his role is catering to each player’s individual needs, which can extend to having the right jersey hung in their locker to a favourite keepsake or brand of deodorant.
“Each one of them has different needs than the next,” he outlines. “One player likes a particular soda and gum. So I sort that. But most guys aren’t that high maintenance. One day I went to the store and got a particular body wash. And now they won’t use anything else. They won’t use soap. So I have to bring it on the road with us which is funny.”
It’s not always so simple. Particularly when you’re 1500 kilometres from home on the east coast. Or 9000 away on the other side of the Atlantic. “At home I can take care of almost anything. When you’re on the road, that’s more difficult. One time we signed a free agent late one night and somehow we got a jersey from LA overnight to Indianapolis on a private plane. And that jersey was made in ten hours, lettered, shipped and at the arena in time for him to get ready.”
So while you read this, there’s a guy in a room, somewhere in LA, planning, preparing, providing and pushing himself to the limit. But that’s what equipment managers do. They’re equipped – for anything. Even trips to Moscow.
“When they announced it, we were on the road and everyone was reading USA Today,” Serrano recalls. “90 per cent of them were excited by it right away. It’s somewhere I’ve not been before. I remember the Cold War in the seventies so you have that image I guess. But it will be a great experience for everyone.”
Just don’t expect him to pack just one bag.