The NBA’s Newest Star Is a Sports Scientist

A strength and conditioning coach who has gained wide attention in the NBA for his analytics-based approach to player health is the National Basketball Players Association's newest hire. His goal? To ensure that fewer players suffer devastating injuries—no matter which team they're on.

Your association may have a variety of staff roles, but the odds are low that you employ  a sports scientist.

Until last month, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA)—the union that represents NBA players—didn’t employ one, either. But after a tough season during which a number of big stars were sidelined with painful injuries, the association switched gears.

Enter Joe Rogowski, NBPA’s new director of physiology and research. Rogowski, who has spent much of his career working for NBA teams such as the Orlando Magic and the Houston Rockets, will now work to create new union standards for player conditioning and will make room for one-on-one time with NBPA members.

The position is a good fit for Rogowski, who has worked in a wide variety of sports and has leadership experience gained during his time as the head of the NBA Strength Coaches Association.

“Joe has earned the admiration and respect of a huge swath of the professional basketball community—within the league, among members and coaches, and, most importantly, our players,” NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts said in a news release. “His addition to our staff provides us with the capability to identify and manage the medical and physical challenges faced by our members on and off the court.”

Collaboration Is Key

In an Associated Press interview, Rogowski noted that his new job is the result of a combination of his NBA experience, his strong relationships with other teams, and his ability to communicate with multiple stakeholders.

The secret is “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,” Rogowski explained. “A lot of the issues can be easily resolved with communication between the sides because they just don’t understand sometimes.”

But Rogowski may face challenges: For one thing, teams may not be excited about sharing their sports-conditioning strategies with competitors. While NBA Commissioner Adam Silver supports such information-sharing, it may prove tough for Rogowski to accomplish.

He says he’ll do his best to make clear to teams that conditioning information that helps keep players healthy isn’t a trade secret they need to protect. “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,” he says.

Moneyball 2.0: No Injuries

In a way, Rogowski’s role with the association represents a new twist on the Moneyball concept that data drives success in sports: Instead of simply having the right players on the court, it’s becoming more important to keep those players healthy. While with the Houston Rockets, Rogowski gained a reputation for data-based physical conditioning.

As The Washington Post notes, health has become a key focus of every major sports league. If a star player gets injured—or worse, heals in a way that takes away his or her competitive edge—that can have dire effects on a team’s record.

“Anything that can help prevent injuries, teams right now are trying to implement,” Rogowski told the Post.

Joe Rogowski, left, the NPBA's new director of physiology and research. (Handout photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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