David R. Schmidt, MD, doesn’t get star struck anymore.
“They’re just like any other patient,” the San Antonio orthopedic surgeon said.
While that might be technically true, Dr. Schmidt also is aware that as team physician of the San Antonio Spurs, his patients’ star status exceeds even their tall stature.
Dr. Schmidt, who practices at Sports Medicine Associates of San Antonio, has been with the Spurs for 25 years.
In that time, he’s tended to soon-to-be NBA Hall-of-Famers like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, as well as legends David Robinson, Dominique Wilkins, and Moses Malone. He’s seen the lows — including a 20-62 season in 1997; the highs — such as five championships; and he’s treated countless cuts, bruises, sprains, and concussions.
“I have one more ring than Tony Parker,” Dr. Schmidt said. “But I don’t want to rub it in.”
Dr. Schmidt is one of two orthopedic surgeons among the group of health care professionals that keep the Spurs in top shape. That medical team also includes a primary care physician, two sports scientists, two strength coaches, two athletic trainers, two physical therapists, and several interns.
Although not as brutal as football, professional basketball is still a violent and physically demanding sport. The most common injury is ankle sprains, Dr. Schmidt says, but hamstring sprains and patellar tendonitis also are common.
One of the biggest challenges in keeping players healthy is the combination of work and travel they endure during an 82-game regular season, Dr. Schmidt says. Half of those games are on the road, meaning the team criss-crosses the country 41 times between October and April. Those numbers go up when (for the Spurs, since 1998, it hasn’t been a question of “if”) the team makes the playoffs.
As president of the NBA Physicians Association, Dr. Schmidt has been addressing those concerns, including working with the league commissioner to evaluate load on professional basketball players.
“These are the most overworked athletes in the world,” Dr. Schmidt said. “With how much they practice and play multiple games a week, plus all of the travel, it can take its toll.”
Schmidt doesn’t travel with the team during the regular season, only when the Spurs make the playoffs.
On home game days, he usually arrives at the AT&T Center around 6 pm and checks on the Spurs players, as well as the other team. During the game, he’s in the general manager’s box, and has access to the court, locker room, and the arena’s medical facilities if he’s needed.
Those facilities contain all of the equipment necessary to treat cuts and bruises, as well as more serious injuries, including X-ray capabilities.
“We can’t fix a fracture, but we can splint,” he said. “But it’s very rare we send somebody to the hospital.”
After the game, Schmidt will check in again on both teams before leaving the arena, usually around 11 pm.
“I ask them if they need anything, tend to any injuries they may have, and then let them go home,” he said.
Dr. Schmidt grew up on a ranch outside Harper, about 100 miles west of Austin in the Hill Country. After completing his medical training and residency at The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, he joined a private practice led by orthopedic surgeon Jack H. Henry, MD, who at the time was the Spurs’ physician. When Dr. Henry took a position at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in 1993, Dr. Schmidt took over.
But Dr. Schmidt’s sports résumé doesn’t end with the Spurs. He served as a physician for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, the World University Games in Japan, and the NBA All-Star Game. He also treats athletes at The University of Texas San Antonio, Trinity University, and several local high schools.
Although not as glamorous as an NBA game, Dr. Schmidt says caring for high school and Division III university players can be more rewarding.
“I just enjoy taking care of kids and watching them develop their careers,” Dr. Schmidt said. “I saw a girl today who’s playing pro basketball in Romania who tore her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). She came back to San Antonio because she wanted me to take care of her. There’s a lot of joy in that. I love taking care of the NBA, but I also love taking care of kids.”
Tex Med. 2018;114(6):18-19