Madison Square Garden equipment manager Edgar Burgos provides a glimpse into a job that affords employees rare access to athletes.
The locker room is the most sacred place in sports. With the cameras gone just before or moments after a game, the players are their core selves, their most vulnerable. There’s no masquerading for the media or holding up poker faces in negotiations. Few get to experience what it’s like to spend time in a professional locker room, and even fewer get to manage one. Edgar Burgos has been doing it for nearly 20 years.
Burgos, 43, grew up wanting to work in sports. He graduated with a degree in sports management and spent a year as an unpaid ball boy at Madison Square Garden before climbing up the ranks to eventually become an MSG equipment manager. For Knicks home games and college basketball events at the Garden, Burgos is the man behind everything a player needs before, during and after a game.
“I get there around 7:30, 8 o'clock [in the morning] and the place is usually a mess because the Rangers played the night before. By 4:30 I have to make sure that place looks like it's a Knicks locker room. It takes the whole day,” Burgos said just across the street from the World’s Most Famous Arena. “At the same time I'm doing the college schedule. So it's a hectic day. By 8:30, at the end of the night I'm just like, ‘I can't wait for 11:30, 12 o’clock so I can get up out of here.’”
The NBA players Burgos preps for everyday are quick to bring up the job’s value and strenuous demands.
“I think the importance of an equipment manager's job is underrated,” says Jamal Crawford, a 15-year veteran of the league. “They have 15 guys on a team, that all like different things, whether it be certain headbands, wristbands, like their shoes, socks a different way. In a sense the equipment manager is a bridge between the player and the stuff he needs to be successful.”
Having to cater to players from both teams and referees often makes for a 16-hour work day at the Garden for Burgos. At halftime he’ll get hot packs or ice wraps for players that need them, and once the game is over he needs to clean up the locker room for the Rangers to use the next day. Not to mention, some players are harder to work with than others.
“I never really dealt with high, high maintenance guys. Like the Lakers, that's a high maintenance team. High maintenance. What they ask for, you'd be like, damn, this is like a football team,” Burgos said. “Matt Geiger, remember him? He played for the Sixers. He asked me for gum that nobody had. I guess it was like a tobacco gum. We had to go to a tobacco shop to buy him the gum. But it was worth it, he winded up giving us—the thing was $20—he gave us $200 for it.”
With Burgos’s job comes the label of working closely with the Knicks, something fans have tried to take advantage of at times.
“Tickets, and can I get a shirt? Can I get shorts? Can I get something signed? Can I meet Melo? Crazy,” Burgos said.
For as much as the job asks of him, Burgos can’t get enough of it.
“I can't complain,” Burgos said. “It's one of the best jobs. You deal with players and you watch basketball for free. I love it, personally.”
The gig certainly has its perks. For one, Burgos has been able to witness moments hidden from the press and the fans. Moments that make for great stories.
“So the game is over, and Patrick Ewing missed a [game-winning] jumper," Burgos said. "In the locker room Marcus Camby's pissed. There's a food table in the locker room, and Marcus Camby just throws it up in the air and the food flies everywhere. And Charlie Ward was like, ‘Marcus, what are you doing? I was going to eat that. The fight with Alonzo Mourning. When Jeff [Van Gundy] walked into the locker room everybody was still hyped up. David Wingate was on our team at that time. [He] jumps on the floor and starts grabbing coach's leg. That broke the ice, and everybody just started laughing.”
Some memories Burgos looks back on aren’t quite as humorous.
“We played the Spurs one game, and I thought I was going to get fired," Burgos said. "So, the night before I picked up the Spurs uniforms and they needed them cleaned. I [cleaned] them, I locked [the uniforms] up. And then the next day, I get to the Garden, I'm setting up the Spurs uniforms and Tim Duncan's jersey is missing.
"And I’m like, I saw Tim Duncan's jersey last night, right? So I call my guy from the Spurs, 'We’re missing Tim Duncan's jersey.' He was like, 'I gave it to you.’ I said, ‘I know!’ I'm the one that's looking crazy and it just so happens that when we called the police and everything, somebody went into the ducts, into the storage room and stole his jersey. I was like, I'm going to get fired, because I started thinking maybe I misplaced it.”
This situation is a rarity, but that doesn't mean there aren't more common struggles for those in Burgos’s position.
“The misconception is it's a great job all the time,” Burgos said. “Case and point: if you're losing, like this year, players take it really hard, so you have to try and balance doing your job and not bothering guys.”
Burgos’s larger point harkens back to what Crawford said about the equipment manager being a bridge between the player and what he needs to be successful. The two are intertwined and invested in how the team performs. “Losing sucks, but when you're winning, you feel like you're really helping the team,” Burgos said. "When you're losing, you're like, what can I do more to try and help them win. When the team is losing, you feel part of that losing.”
Burgos would often use the word “we” instead of “the Knicks” over the course of an interview with SI.com, simply because he feels like part of the team. As does every other equipment manager in the league that works day and night to keep athletes and their locker rooms prepared. Many might think Burgos has the perfect job and couldn’t ask for anything more, but they’d be wrong.
“I just want to see one title in my lifetime," Burgos said. "That's it. One title for me is like five someplace else. I just want to see one. Before I'm 50. I don't want to be old.”