Don Sparks, the Jazz’s longtime athletic trainer who taped Pete Maravich’s ankles in New Orleans and decades later tended to Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone in Salt Lake City, has died at the age of 90. He passed away on June 2 of causes related to age.
Sparky, as he was known to everyone within the organization, was the team’s first trainer, joining the franchise in 1974. Over the next 20 years, Sparks worked each of the 1,886 games the Jazz played — 151 preseason exhibitions, 1,640 regular-season contests and 95 playoff matchups.
“He was a classic, old-school NBA trainer,” said former Jazz trainer Gary Briggs. “When they made Sparky, they broke the mold.”
Sparks was part of a cadre of employees who followed the Jazz from New Orleans to Salt Lake City.
“Bourbon Street to the Mormon tabernacle was quite a move,” he once said.
Sparks was the NBA’s Trainer of the Year in 1984. He was also selected to be the Western Conference’s trainer for three different All-Star games. During his 20-year tenure, he mentored a number of longtime NBA trainers, including Briggs and former Lakers trainer Gary Vitti.
Legendary Jazz broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley nicknamed Sparks “Magic Fingers” for his ability to cure players’ physical ailments. But with a big personality, a kind heart and a tireless dedication, Sparks handled myriad duties within his role. He dealt with sprained ankles and knee injuries as head trainer; booked flights and hotels as the team’s travel secretary; and setup locker room’s as a de facto equipment manager.
“Back in those days, there were no assistant trainers or equipment managers,” said David Fredman, the Jazz’s Vice President of Player Personnel. “Sparky pretty much did everything in the early days.”
When rumors and threats of lawsuit began to form during the team’s last days in New Orleans, Sparks took it upon himself to stash the team’s equipment.
“Under the threat of lawsuits he went and rented storage lockers in New Orleans,” Fredman said. “He would go late at night and take the equipment and put it in those lockers because we were afraid we’d show up and there’d be a padlock on the locker room.”
Fredman also recalled Sparks negotiating flights and hotels in the early days of the franchise, when the team had outstanding bills (during one trip, Sparks lay on the floor of a hotel lobby in protest to make sure his players got their rooms) or talking his way through travel cancelations in the days when the team still took commercial flights.
“He was a small guy in stature, but he’d bully his way to the front of the line and say, ‘I got a team I gotta get to Chicago,’” Fredman said. “He always got it done. He took great pride in what he did.”
Sparks is survived by his wife, Joyce.