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The Art of the Medicine

Dr. Stephen Lombardo, Team Physician for the Los Angeles Lakers on Kobe's Last Game

The Art of the Medicine

On the 13th of April, 18,997 people were in attendance at a sold-out STAPLES Center for the final game of Kobe Bryant’s career, our own Dr. Stephen Lombardo included. Team physician to the Los Angeles Lakers since he started with Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in 1974, we asked Dr. Lombardo what it means to be a team physician and about Kobe’s final game.

Like so many Sports Medicine physicians, Dr. Lombardo entered in to the specialty through a love of the game. As he recalls, “I would ride my bicycle to go play tackle football, badminton…then it was on to golf, baseball, basketball. Once I entered medicine, my dream was to take care of athletes.” Today, Dr. Lombardo cares for some of the finest athletes in the nation.

Dr. Lombardo and his medical team’s responsibilities literally span an athlete’s entire career. Physicians are present at the NBA draft to examine all potential team players to ensure the athletes are in good health. The medical team moves on to pre-season physical exams. Finally, the season starts and the physicians attend all home games, giving attention to medical problems as they arise. Once an injury occurs, the team physician evaluates the injury, then outlines a treatment plan. This occasionally leads to surgery.

As players on the team turn over, Dr. Lombardo and his medical team must adjust to varying levels of athletes. “Players who have been with the team for some time have a high confidence level in the physicians, they become family. With new players, you have to work on establishing this relationship.” Dr. Lombardo reflects on how dynamic the players are, “Everyone has different personalities. Some are in the training room all the time, some are not. This is the art of the medicine - understanding how you as a physician can best fulfill the need of the player for the problem they have.”

When reflecting on a professional athlete’s career with a team, Dr. Lombardo hopes that he has delivered the best possible care to that player as their team physician. He hopes that he has contributed to the long-term investment that both the team and the player have made in their relationship with each other. “Our job is to ensure that a player doesn’t get back in the game prematurely after an injury, as well as to be sure not to keep them out an extra month or two where their skills are not being used by the team. Any good organization, any smart owner, any great player will consider that the relationship is long term. No one should pressure or feel pressure to return to play.”

When asked about Kobe’s 60-point final game against the Utah Jazz, Dr. Lombardo likened it to a rebirth or a renaissance. “Kobe’s been a player since he was 18. During the last five minutes of that game, he was playing like he was 18 again. Kobe willed himself to do that. It’s been mind over matter for his whole career. Athletes like Kobe are few and far between and it’s been one of the highlights of my career to provide care to him and to watch him practice his craft at a legendary level.”