Although it is said many times that the Los Angeles Lakers are a “family organization”, many people on the roster and the staff of the 2019-20 Lakers have either only been there a year or a couple of years. This applies to LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Frank Vogel, as well every player and coach on the team aside from Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso if you count his time in the G-League. You’d definitely be hard-pressed to find anyone from Kobe Bryant’s era of basketball, other than the obvious in team owner Jeanie Buss and Lakers GM Rob Pelinka (who really was only connected to the Lakers in Kobe’s day as his agent and not necessarily a Lakers employee). There is one individual on the team who worked for the Lakers while Kobe was still playing, and that is current Director of Sports Performance, Dr. Judy Seto.
Judy Seto has been around the Lakers organization for at least 30 years at this point, as she has stated before that she worked on Jerry West early on in his career. She rose to prominence within the organization through her close relationship with Kobe Bryant, who she first took care of in the late 1990s before Kobe had even won his first championship. Seto (along with others since his death in January 2020) talked in the past about how hard it was to earn Kobe’s trust, but she did that and then some. She earned his trust so much so that Kobe insisted she come with to take care of him at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Kobe, as competitive as any human that’s ever graced this earth, never even told his teammate Pau Gasol that he was bringing Seto to the 2008 Olympics. Gasol also held Seto in high regard and asked Kobe why he didn’t tell Gasol that she was coming. “Because you play for Spain,” Kobe said. He also said Seto’s impact on him was “enormous” during the 2011-12 season, a season that was injury-plagued for Kobe.
It’s not surprising that Kobe took a liking to Seto, as you only need to look at her various degrees and designations to realize that she has really put the work in. As someone who appreciated hard work and some light trash talk, Kobe once teased her about her accomplishments as she had enough degrees that she’s probably covered every single letter in the alphabet with them (DPT, SCS, OCS, CSCS, MBA, PES, CES…close enough):
Kobe gives me a hard time about finishing various degrees and certifications. ‘So what’s next?’ he’ll ask. ‘You’re always studying for something, what’s up?’ I say, ‘Look who’s talking. You’re always looking to improve yourself, every summer, adding something to your game,’ and he nods. That’s part of why we get along so well.
The proof of Seto’s impact is right there within any statistical page of Kobe Bryant’s career. 20 seasons in the NBA, with no major injuries until the fateful Achilles in 2013. She rode through that traumatic experience with Kobe, somehow taking the old veteran into a couple more years. She eventually left the Lakers in 2016 as well, after being hired full-time to the Lakers in 2011 under former longtime head trainer, Gary Vitti.
The recent minor resurgence of Markelle Fultz can also (at least partly) be attributed to Seto. After a weird and unsuccessful introduction into the NBA, Fultz was diagnosed with Thoracic outlet syndrome in December 2018. It was then reported that he would begin physical therapy on the unique syndrome with Judy Seto immediately. Two years later, and Fultz is coming off easily his best season in the NBA with the Orlando Magic. It was starting to seem like Fultz may never find a role in the NBA, let alone live up to his status as a former number one overall pick. Seto may have helped him get back on track.
Less than a month before he died, Kobe appeared on the “All The Smoke” podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson. He was talking about the 2019-20 Lakers, saying they were the “biggest team” he had ever seen. However, he did say that the key to being successful at the end of the season would be their health. When talking about that, the Lakers 2019 offseason hiring of his old friend Judy Seto came to mind (h/t to Lakers Nation):
I think the biggest thing for them and what they really need to invest in is health. Making sure the strength training is where it should be and making sure physically you’re always where you should be. They got Judy [Seto] over there and Judy is amazing… she’s the best. And so I think that’s the biggest thing for them is just health.
Kobe probably didn’t want to say it, but I’m sure the combined old age of these Lakers may have been on his mind when saying that. With veterans like LeBron James (35 years old), Dwight Howard (34), Rajon Rondo (34), and Danny Green (33) all being key rotational players all year, it was going to be key for someone as experienced as Seto to manage muscle injuries over the course of what turned out to be the longest season in NBA history. Seto said the following while working under the legendary Gary Vitti in 2012. Something that was surely instilled while she was in charge this season:
I think everyone on Gary’s staff works well together, and with lines of communication open we can often nip things in the bud before they become an issue. We see trends happening, trade notes, and exchange ideas. For example, we see tightness somewhere we then have that player do the appropriate thing to make sure it doesn’t become a strain or a tear.
The result? The Lakers’ worst injury was to Avery Bradley in November 2019, a hairline fracture in his right leg that caused him to miss 13 games in the season, which is honestly a positive considering his injury history in recent years (he did miss every game in the Orlando bubble as he opted-out of re-joining the team). Aside from some injuries to Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma heading into the season, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers flew through the season mostly unscathed.
Championship No. 6 for the great @judyseto 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/5CSp1fVgJq
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 26, 2020
That then manifested itself in the team being the most dominant and arguably energetic team of the bubble 2020 NBA Playoffs. Even though being one of the oldest teams in the league, the Lakers took advantage of that and gave the franchise its 17th, and Judy Seto a well deserved sixth.