Lakers Head Athletic Trainer Talks About Making History in the NBA: 'It's Really Been a Blessing'
For Los Angeles Lakers fans, Nina Hsieh is a very familiar face and an invaluable member of the staff.
Hsieh, who became the team's Head Athletic Trainer in August 2019 thus becoming the first-ever female Head Athletic Trainer of an NBA team, is a vital part of the organization's success as she not only oversees the training staff and works with the coaches, but she is also responsible for the care and prevention of injuries to the players.
And for the defending champs, this year's season is thankfully not over yet. On Wednesday, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who both returned to the lineup after their respective injuries, are set to lead the Lakers into the Western Conference play-in tournament against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
In recognition and celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Hsieh tells PEOPLE about her career and how she works hard to ensure the highest level of on-court performance from James, Davis and all the Lakers.
PEOPLE: You were born in Taiwan and grew up in Southern California. What made you want to work in sports? Did you know you wanted to be an athletic trainer?
NINA HSIEH: Yeah, my childhood was great. I came here when I was almost 4 years old and I spent every vacation from school, whether it was winter break or summer break, in Taiwan the majority of my childhood all the way up to high school. I believe I got the best of both worlds, both cultures. I started playing sports when I was super young, just loved being outdoors and spending time with friends. I can't say it was anything different than a lot of stories you hear. I grew up playing multiple sports — softball being my main one. Played all the way up through high school, then got hurt in high school. I knew I wanted to do something in the healthcare profession and just found more interest as I was going through my own rehab and injuries.
You served as the athletic trainer for the University of California, Santa Barbara women's basketball team and men's soccer team before joining the Lakers organization in 2008 as the head athletic trainer for the Lakers G League affiliate South Bay Lakers. How was that transition?
I feel like it was a pretty easy transition, if we're talking about personnel. Because most of your South Bay Lakers players, they come out of college early so they're in the same age group or they're pretty fresh out of college. So the age group doesn't really change, the actual work side of it was a huge difference from UCSB to South Bay Lakers. The different roles that I played that was a bigger difference. Not just athletic training, but it was heavy in demand for the strength and conditioning side, the equipment manager, assisting in travel. There was a lot more responsibility than just athletic training.
Then, in 2016, you got the call to go up to the official Lakers staff as an Assistant Athletic Trainer. Did you feel like, "I've worked hard, I've earned this position. This is the part of my career that I've always wanted."
Yes, that's exactly. You nailed it right there. Transition, of course, it's different, right? Because now the level of play, the athletes, it's a whole different level. It's the best of the best out there. But it's everything you said, you're like, "This is all the sweat and tears and the years of spending it in the minor leagues." This is the moment.
With the promotion to Head Athletic Trainer in 2019, you made history in the league. Did you feel any pressure being the first-ever female Head Athletic Trainer of an NBA team?
I don't see it as any different pressure than anybody that's taking a head role. I'd like to say that my role was given because of my hard work, [rather] than female or male. I feel like anybody that's taken a head role, I think the pressure is about the same, right? I think for the community though, it's not necessarily pressure, but it's just representing. Trying to represent the best that I can be for the young females out there. And trying to just do my job, I know that I've done something right. I don't feel like it's extra pressure. I just feel like, "Hey, you have to, kind of, stand out for the females, but just do your job, do your job right. And everything should flow."
Obviously, the NBA is a male-dominated sport. But there are more female executives and female assistant coaches than ever before. What is it like to be an Asian American woman working in the NBA?
I don't even know how to put it in words. I'm proud and it's a blessing. Obviously, it's a huge blessing for where I'm at. I am very proud of my culture and my ethnicity. I'd like to represent that as well as I can. I'm very proud of everybody that's helped me to where I'm at. It's really been a blessing.
What has been the most satisfying part of being a member of the Lakers franchise so far?
I'd have to say, obviously the first year coming in and winning the  championship. Not just about winning a championship, but keeping our guys healthy and teamwork. It's my staff. A combined effort of motivating the staff, making sure we work together as a group and keeping these guys healthy for a pretty long season. Going through the bubble, it was a very long season. Being able to keep everybody together and healthy, to accomplish our end goal, I'd say is probably one of the biggest accomplishments.
This season, there are have been many notable injuries, especially with LeBron and AD. What is it like to have those hard conversations with players about being patient with recovery and staying off the court?
All our players, you always have to have those conversations. It's a long season for the very short off-season that we had. You always say that it's a marathon, not a sprint. So you always have to have those conversations. I think whether it's the season or any season when a player is injured and they want to get onto the court and you know that they're not ready — you always have to have those conversations. It's just how you present it to the players, how you present it to the coaching staff. It's a pretty normal conversation to have, but yes, this year, many teams are going through the same thing with a little bit different schedule than normal.
Whether it's an NBA athlete, a professional athlete in another sport or an amateur athlete, what is your tip to stay healthy overall?
It takes a lot for a long season like this, the athletes have to put in a lot of time. We are only here to help provide the best care that we can. But these athletes, you got to give it to them for taking responsibility in what they put into their bodies, nutrition wise, the rest and recovery. The showing up extra hours early or staying extra hours after practices and games for us to get our work in with them. For me, if there's one thing, it takes a lot for them to stay healthy for the majority of the season.
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