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The enduring value of the Nets medical team

Doctors Riley Williams III, Michael Farber and Martin O’Malley
Riley J. Williams III

We missed this tweet back on March 11. It’s a video on how doctors at the Hospital for Special Surgery —the Nets official hospital— had tried some innovative procedures to get Spencer Dinwiddie back on the court last season after his thumb surgery...

We missed it because there were other things going on that day, like Rudy Gobert’s positive test for coronavirus and the NBA’s decision to suspend play. That said, the story told in the HSS video —and what happened with the Nets in the ensuing days — are good examples of what the Nets medical team can do and has done during the coronavirus crisis ... starting on the flight home on March 13.

As Sean Marks noted in his interview with Chris Carrino two weeks ago, just having team physician, Dr. Michael Farber, on the plane from San Francisco to New York was “a godsend.”

“He could, I guess you could say, temper some things down and put things in a little bit of normalcy and answer questions that players and staff had. for us to have a level of competence and get back to Brooklyn as quick as we could was paramount,” the Nets GM told Carrino.

Among Farber’s recommendations was that each member of the traveling party be given a sheet of paper and asked to write down how they were feeling, if they’d been around anyone who was sick, or if they have any family members in any high-risk category.

Then, back in Brooklyn, it was the Nets medical team, led by Dr. Riley J. Williams III, who advised the Nets on getting tested and helped secure the test kits from a Missouri company. Whether you agree with the ethics of the decision to get the Nets tested when tests were at a premium, four players on the team did test positive. (They were all later cleared.)

As Adam Harrington, the Nets director of player development, tweeted a few days after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized the Nets, “I am so thankful for the leadership of Nets Organization & medical staff!”

Since then, the medical professionals have been in regular touch with players, monitoring their health. Every day, players get sent a link to a survey on how they’re feeling.

The four who tested positive were immediately placed “under the care of team physicians” and the team told all their players to be in “constant communications” with the team doctors, according to a team statement back then. The organization also noted that that the Nets performance psychologist was available to players and staff.

Beyond the crisis response, the Nets medical team —in conjunction with the performance team— is a big asset for the organization not just in keeping players healthy or giving players confidence in a crisis, but in things like gauging the health of potential free agents and draft picks.

In addition to Williams, the team’s medical director (a role he holds with Team USA as well), and Farber, who is in essence the Nets family doctor, there’s the team’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Martin O’Malley. O’Malley is everyone’s go-to foot and ankle guy. Kevin Durant has had to use his services twice. Same with Caris LeVert. (He’s also foot and ankle consultant for the New York City Ballet!)

“Whenever you have doctors like that, who are top of the line, gives you comfort mentally to know that they’ve done everything they can do and that you’re in good hands,” LeVert said of O’Malley back in 2018. “As long as I have HSS in my corner, I know they’ll do everything to keep me healthy and living my dream.”

Dinwiddie had the same take.

“Physicians and staff are second to none,” he said back in March, talking about Williams and Dr. Michelle Carlson, his HSS surgeons. “They keep you informed, let you know every single thing. They pretty much walked me through it well before the surgery so I had a good idea of what it was going to be like going in.“

The medical team’s advice and actions can at times be life-saving not just career-extending. Five years ago, Farber along with then trainer Tim Walsh encouraged Mirza Teletovic to get a CT scan after he complained of shortness of breath during a game in L.A. and was taken to an emergency room. Teletovic was found to have three blood clods in his lung and had been in danger of dying on the court or on a plane ride.

There are other aspects of the relationship with HSS that help the Nets, like the establishment of HSS Brooklyn, a 14,000-square foot facility that has primary care sports medicine physicians, rheumatologists, orthopedic surgeons one floor —12 steps— under the basketball courts of the Nets training facility. The new facility, which opened in December, is located on the same floor as the Nets business offices in Industry City.

No longer will a player injured in a practice have to travel from Brooklyn to the main HSS campus on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for an initial examination. Instead, he’ll only have to descend one floor to a fully staffed and equipped medical facility.

Does all this matter in free agency? Duh. Last year, there were reports out of the Bay Area that KD wasn’t happy with the quality of care he received. Kyrie Irving went further, saying on Media Day that he would “protect” Durant, noting “We all know K was not ready to play in that environment...we put him on a national stage to end up selling a product to came before the person.”

And indeed in the weeks and months prior to last summer’s free agency, there were reports that the Nets were prioritizing their medical and performance teams in discussions with free agents. The city, the owners, the development staff, the young core ... all good, but it was the medical and performance teams they stressed.

Will the Nets response to the coronavirus help them next time around? There’s every indication that they will. Players talk ... as we learned last year. And the players seem more than happy with their care. It all matters.

As Dinwiddie tweeted two days before the opening of free agency last year...