Of course, having been hurt himself makes it easier for a trainer to identify with an injured player. Last summer Travaglini was filling in for the baseball Denver Bears of the American Association. Enjoying the pace of the game, which is much easier on a trainer than basketball or rodeo, Chopper took a seat one sunny day in the stands. "I've got the best hands in the world," he was bragging to folks around him, "but in 30 years of going to baseball games I've never caught a foul ball." Sure enough, a perfectly catchable pop-up appeared instantly—and broke Chopper's little finger in two places.
The most common basketball injuries are to the feet, ankles and knees. But trainers often are called upon to diagnose other ailments. D'Oliva once rushed to the aid of Center Dale Schleuter, who seemed to be convulsing during a Warriors game at San Francisco's Cow Palace. Schleuter couldn't tell D'Oliva what was wrong, and there were some anxious moments before he finally coughed up a huge horsefly that had come to the Cow Palace for the Grand National Rodeo and Livestock Exhibition, then playing in the building.
Proski remembers being scared to death when Connie Hawkins crumpled to the floor during a Sunday afternoon game in Los Angeles. "Hawk! what is it? Are you O.K.?" Proski panted. "Hell, yeah," said Hawkins. "But all those folks back in Green Bay are just eating their hearts out seeing you live on national TV!"
Then there was the time Proski received a call from the Phoenix Suns' doctor, Paul Steingard, who told him that Stretch Howard, a seldom-used rookie, had broken his thumb during a game the previous night. "But that's impossible," said Proski. "Stretch didn't play." "I know," said Steingard, "but he got excited and sat on his thumb."
Last season Darryl Dawkins frequently complained to Domenico of a sore right shoulder. Domenico applied ultrasound and plunged Dawkins into the whirlpool, but the soreness kept coming back. Both player and trainer were mystified until Domenico saw Dawkins walking through an airport with his 40-pound cassette machine slung by a strap over his right shoulder. Domenico suggested he alternate shoulders, and the problem went away.
Domenico is the prince of practical jokers on the 76ers. When management got rid of several players last season, Domenico would cut each man's face out of the previous year's team picture. Understandably, the surviving players were on edge. One night the locker-room telephone rang as they were getting into uniform. "Wait a minute," Domenico yelled, putting his hand over the receiver. "Don't anyone get undressed yet." And for several minutes the players froze, watching him mumble into the phone. Sixers Coach Billy Cunningham also has learned to be wary of Domenico. During a game last season in Kansas City, Domenico yelled one of the "magic words" at a referee. "Who said that?" asked the ref. "He did," said Domenico. Cunningham got a technical foul and the $75 fine that goes with it.
At Golden State, D'Oliva had Jim Barnett, who was known to crawl along hotel ledges foraging for beer or food that players would leave on their windowsills. On one cold night in New York, Barnett gave his new rabbit coat to a wandering drunk. Stuck in a traffic jam on the way to a game on another night, Barnett abandoned his car and ran across the Bay Bridge. When he later played for the Knicks, Barnett literally ransacked the locker room, swearing a blue streak while looking for his Bible.
In the early years of the Suns, Center Neal Walk was on an iron-man streak, having started 228 consecutive games for Phoenix. At game time one night, Walk was nowhere to be found. Out on the court with the other players, Cotton Fitzsimmons, then the Suns' coach, was furious, and Proski was mystified. Finally Proski sent a ball boy into the locker room, and he found Walk. Proski had accidentally locked him in there.
Plenty of players have lost or forgotten all or parts of their uniforms while on the road, and this too is a problem for trainers. When he was a rookie, Coniel Norman of the 76ers showed up for a game in Portland without his uniform. Domenico told him it was no big deal; Portland was so strong he had no chance of getting into the game. Domenico told Norman just to put on an athletic supporter under his warmups. Then he told Coach Gene Shue about it, and Shue ended his pre-game meeting by telling the panic-stricken Norman, "You be ready, Coniel, because you'll be the first man off the bench tonight."
Domenico was party to a particularly dirty trick a few years back when the 76ers were making connections in Pittsburgh. Rookie Steve Courtin fell asleep during a card game, and the rest of the group took all his money and his shoes, boarded the plane and left him stranded.