Long-time Los Angeles Lakers trainer Gary Vitti is a jack-of-all-trades as a statistician, trip planner, physical therapist and as learned on Sunday via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, a motivational speaker.
In 29 years of working with the storied organization, one learns all the nuances and inner-workings that make such an everyman role feasible. But what it also does is make Vitti a vested stakeholder in the Lakers’ welfare. He cares deeply about the wins and losses as much as anyone around the team.
That was never more apparent than during a late January meeting in Memphis in the midst of the Lakers’ tumultuous stretch where they finished 17-25 at the end of the same month. After the coaches and players aired their dirty laundry, Vitti had to say something (via the L.A. Times):
“I snapped,” Vitti told the Los Angeles Times “I looked around the room and I said, ‘Aren’t you embarrassed? Because I am. This is a storied franchise and it took us decades to put those banners on the wall. In 41 games, you’ve undone it. There’s a responsibility that comes with this. You need to understand that with a level of pride. It’s embarrassing to do what we’re doing as a team.’”
Embarrassing was the best way to describe the poor product on the floor during the first half of the season. At some point, personal pride as a professional and as a Laker has to take over and motivate the players. And with the urging of Vitti, that’s exactly what happened.
Having had the opportunity to talk to Vitti in the past, I know that he meant every word, and I can imagine how direct he was in his delivery. Every player in that room had to feel ashamed that it took harsh words from an unlikely source to try to turn things around. At that point in the season, L.A. needed any inspiration it could find to come out of the depths of the Western Conference.
The silver lining? It looks like it worked. It’s hard to call the past several games anything else but inspiring given the way they’ve won in adverse circumstances.
Los Angeles is 15-6 since the Jan. 23 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, and more importantly, they’ve become a more cohesive unit. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are at the center of attention, and their relationship has improved to the point that Howard is now drawing inspiration from the Black Mamba.
All season long, there was big talk about a “gut check” moment. Perhaps it came from the one true Lakers team member who’s never taken a shot in an NBA game.