Coming off a season in which star after star was lost to serious injury, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBA Players' Association executive director Michele Roberts have made player health one of the top priorities to address this offseason.
With that in mind, the union hired Joe Rogowski, a former athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach with the Orlando Magic and the Houston Rockets, as the director of sports medicine and research. The certified athletic trainer with a master's degree in exercise physiology from Central Florid is tasked with developing programs and coordinating best practices to try to limit the number of games lost to injury.
About six weeks after taking the position, Rogowski spoke with The AP about making the transition from hands-on work with 15 players to helping an entire league. Some highlights from the conversation:
AP: How did things get started with the union?
Rogowski: It was a very intriguing opportunity in the sense that they've never had this position before. It's sort of an open canvas for me. I can develop ideas. One of the things they liked is I've been in the trenches for the last 10 years in the NBA as an athletic trainer and a strength and conditioning coach. So I've seen a lot from the perspective of the players and the teams. I've brought that unique perspective to the union. I can help communicate to them what's going on behind the scenes from my perspective. I think that intrigued them.
AP: Looking at the injuries from last season, is it a coincidence or do you see some patterns developing that have led to more players getting hurt?
Rogowski: I don't think that's anything we can make a conclusive argument now. That's definitely something we're looking into an analyzing. I think it's still too early to say this is why these injuries are happening. But we are doing our due diligence. There are so many variables that are involved with injuries. So being able to look at all the different variables and not just one thing is very important. And keeping an open mind is very important.
AP: Are you going to be working with individual team training staffs?
Rogowski: That's one of the real positives about myself in this position is the fact that I have good relationships with the teams because of my 10 years of experience in the NBA. The communication factor, which is a huge component of sports medicine and the strength and conditioning side. Being able to talk with the team's trainer and the strength and conditioning coaches, doctors, communicate with the union what's going on and the player what's going on. Sometimes it's as simple as a miscommunication. A lot of the issues can be easily resolved with communication between the sides because they just don't understand sometimes.
AP: Commissioner Silver has said he would like training staffs to share best practices. Some teams view those as proprietary information. How can you help facilitate more collaboration?
Rogowski: Some teams do see it as an advantage, but a lot of times when you explain it in a way they understand, you can make them aware that this is not any type of advantage you're giving away. You're just helping increase knowledge. Now what they have specifically on their guys, they can keep to themselves. But if it's a general concept on addressing injuries, I don't think any teams or trainers will hold on to that. If the NBA as a whole is a better product and you have fewer injured guys, it's great for everybody.
AP: How much will the new schedule and fewer back-to-backs and four-in-five nights help?
Rogowski: As far as if it will make a big impact, I'm in a wait-and-see mode. I definitely think it's a step in the right direction. I definitely am in favor of it. But we'll see. Time will tell. Do we still need to keep going in that direction? Yes. Are there other avenues we need to address and look into? Absolutely. Having gone through it myself, I would definitely like that. And I know the players are in favor of it.
AP: How do the retired players factor in?
Rogowski: That's one of the areas I'm really excited about. I've had so many players throughout the years that have gone into retirement. I've seen some of their struggles. And not even struggles, but ways we could pay them back for all their years of service. Starting programs for them has been one of my passions. That's one of the things I went to Michele and Roger and set as one of the priorities, setting up medical programs for them and making sure once they're done playing, they're not just forgotten about. They're still a focus for us, whether it's orthopedics, cardiology, endocrinology; whatever it is, we're setting up stuff for them to still be healthy after they're done playing.
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