By: Travis Tate
This season has been a bittersweet one for Utah Jazz athletic trainer Gary Briggs – a near record number of games have been missed due to injury, providing him with plenty of chances to prove his worth as a healer.
Game days are especially busy for Briggs, prepping the players two separate times and doing postgame treatments another two times – the past couple of seasons have been even more intense after Briggs and assistant trainer and equipment manager Brian Zettler took a course which allows them to do extra work on players’ ankles before taping them.
“About two seasons ago, Brian and I took a manual therapy course and now do ankle mobilization on them before we tape them,” Briggs said. “We move the ankle around in certain ways, our taping takes slightly longer than it used to. Some of the guys it really seems to help.”
Briggs will come to the arena on a game day at about 7:30 a.m. and immediately get to work. Ankles need to be taped, sore joints need to be looked after and general soreness needs to be remedied – but before the players arrive, Briggs needs to do the preparation first. That would include getting ice bags filled and fixing up electrical stimulation modalities (expensive treatment equipment that is moved back-and-forth between the practice site and ESA).
Briggs works his magic when the players come in for shootaround, which lasts from 10-11 a.m.
The Long Beach, Calif. native has a number of accolades to support his ability as a medical professional. In 18 seasons while with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the past nine in Utah, he has earned the 1999 Athletic Trainer of the Year award, and was selected as the chairman for the National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association for the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons. In 2001, Briggs was inducted into the Ohio Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame. He was also the trainer for the 1995 and 1997 NBA All-Star games.
As long as professional athletes are taking their bodies to the extremes of physical performance, Briggs is there to make sure every joint and muscle is well-tuned.
But Briggs said he’d rather not be so busy.
“I would prefer to be the least busy person on the team. But I also know, I feel this myself, if we have a guy who does get hurt, I know we can offer them the best health care available,” Briggs said. “We will get them back and playing as quickly as is safe for them to participate. It’s like the luck of the Irish – we had 38 and 45 missed games due to injury the past two seasons. This year we’ve already got way more than that. That is skewed somewhat with Deron (Williams) missing so many and Carlos (Boozer) and Jarron (Collins) missing so many in a row.”
After shootaround, different players need different attention, “icing guys down, ankles, knees, whatever,” Briggs said.
From there, Briggs gets the chance to go back to his bigger office at the practice facility, get regrouped for the game and do it all over again before the game itself tips off.
Briggs will sit on the bench for the game, keeping track of timeouts, team fouls and player fouls, but he especially likes to keep an eye out for an injury, should it happen.
“My relatives always wonder, ‘how come you never get excited on the bench?’ If I see what (injury) actually occurred, it may help me to know the seriousness of it,” Briggs said. “If the player says, ‘oh, my knee hurts,’ I can say, ‘I saw you got hit from the outside, or you hyperextended it. I need to watch the floor to see how they got hurt. Jumping up and down, hollering and screaming, you’re probably going to miss something – seeing around Jerry (Sloan) is hard enough as it is.”
But, again, Briggs hopes each game is as mundane as possible.
“Hopefully during the game, all I have to do is keep the chart.”