Josh Corbeil would love to tell a story about how one day in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the home of the Indiana Pacers, after a practice he suggested to legendary Boston Celtic and NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird that the two engage in a game of “horse.”
Or the day that the former Attleboro High School Bombardier engaged Bird, then the Pacers’ president, in an impromptu 3-point shooting contest.
It would have made for quite a story of how the guy who used to wear jersey No. 32 for the blue and white outshone and outshot the all-time great No. 33 — just even once.
But none of that happened.
However, as the senior director of medical operations and head athletic trainer for the Pacers, Corbeil and Bird have been on the basketball court many a time in their years of association with the team. But Corbeil understood that he was in a different league than the retired NBA great.
“I’ll never forget the time that we were in China for an exhibition game and Larry (then the Pacers’ president) was on the bench watching the players practice, taking it all in,” Corbeil recalled of one of Bird’s impromptu shooting exhibitions. “He hardly ever picked up a ball. We had just finished practice, guys were icing, changing their shoes.
“Larry picked up a ball and hit eight shots in a row and the net didn’t move. He sat back down and didn’t say anything to anybody.”
Such are the stories of daily life in the NBA, where Corbeil has served in his role since 2005.
Between the 47 days in the NBA “bubble” in Florida to conclude the 2019-20 season, the hotels and airports, the fourth quarter rallies, the shot-at-the-buzzer wins and losses, the 12-month grind of nurturing bodies to be at peak performance for 48 minutes of an NBA game, the season never ends for Corbeil.
He was honored with the Joe O’Toole NBA Athletic Trainer of the Year award in 2011. He was also a member of the first recipients of the Joe O’Toole/David Craig Athletic Training Staff of the Year award in 2019. He served three years as the Eastern Conference Representative on the NBATA (Trainers’ Association) Executive Committee.
Corbeil, 42, graduated from Attleboro High School in 1996, playing four years of basketball for Coach Mark Houle and baseball for Coach Joe O’Halloran and dabbling in football. Then it was on to Boston University where he received a bachelor’s degree in health studies in 2000 followed by a master’s degree in physical therapy in 2002.
“I was better at baseball (first baseman, pitcher, outfield), but I liked basketball more,” Corbeil said. “The only time that I got on the floor for basketball was when the game was decided, one way or another! I played a bit with the freshmen and junior varsity, but when I got to varsity, I only played when the game was over.”
While playing football for Coach Cliff Sherman at Attleboro High, Corbeil suffered a hip injury that steered his future career. After that, he developed an interest in sports medicine as a result of the injury and his three-sport athletic journey as a Bombardier.
“I was an offensive lineman, probably 5-9 and 170 pounds, and it knocked me out that year; I went to PT (physical therapy),” Corbeil recalled of his injury. “It was therapy for a couple of months, but no surgery. My hip was locking up on me when I came out of my stance. So, I’m saying to myself, I’m not going to be an athlete. But, I can do this. I can stay in sports if I can do that. I decided freshman year in high school that that was what I was going to do.
“I learned a lot, I asked a lot of questions.”
Corbeil gained his athletic training certification as an intern with the Boston Celtics for three seasons, while working as a physical therapist at Pro Sports Therapy in Waltham. He joined the Indiana Pacers as their physical therapist-assistant athletic trainer in 2004. He then earned a doctorate in physical therapy in 2010 from the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions.
In addition to being a licensed physical therapist and licensed athletic trainer, Corbeil is also a certified member of the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a performance enhancement specialist and a corrective exercise specialist. He is also a Certified Myofascial Trigger Point Therapist (CMTPT), and has also received a graduate certificate in high performance sport from Australian Catholic University.
Before all that, though, Corbeil was talking to his AHS advisers who he said helped him pick the right programs to apply to.
“In high school, I asked a bunch of people who worked (in physical therapy) at colleges and local PTs – ‘How do I do what you do at a Division I school or professional level?’” he said. “Everybody said that you have to be a physical therapist and an athletic trainer, which are two separate licenses. They told me to do physical therapy first and then became an athletic trainer.”
On his first day at Boston University, Corbeil walked into to the BU Athletic Trainer’s office and them he was in the physical therapy program but that he wanted to be an athletic trainer, too. He wanted to know what he could do to accomplish that.
“I knew it from day one, that all of my professors and advisors knew, too, which I think was a little annoying to them sometimes,” Corbeil said of his academic and professional path. “My advisor at BU introduced me to Ed Lacerte (the Boston Celtics Trainer), so that’s how I started. Ed called me down and next thing I know I’m working at his clinic and interning with the Celtics.
“If it wasn’t for that connection, who knows?” Corbeil said.
It was almost a surreal experience for Corbeil and the Pacers being in such a controlled environment when the NBA resumed last season at Walt Disney World, or “the Orlando Bubble,” as it became known.
“They (NBA) did their best to make it a fun, livable experience,” Corbeil said of the COVID-19 testing, the hotel and social restrictions to keep players and staff healthy. “A lot of detail went into it. If you wanted to go across the hall to get ice you had to have your mask on, your arm band, your credential.
“It was a beautiful hotel (Grand Floridian).We played a bunch of golf, they made as much entertainment as they could for us. But, we were living out of our hotel room.
“That was my biggest question going there and in The Bubble, the restrictions on the lifestyle that most of the players have. How they would handle it? But, they did a great job and the games were better than I thought that they would be. But, I can’t imagine the teams that were there for 100 days!”
In truth, Corbeil rooted for the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time in his life as Frank Vogel had previously served as the Pacers’ head coach.
“He’s one of my all-time favorite people from the NBA,” he said. “I was rooting for Frank, but it was weird to root for the Lakers.”
Corbeil had no issues at all in the Pacers’ training and conditioning in Florida, each NBA team having its own area within the hotel.
“Each team had its own treatment space in the hotel,” he said. “It was different because we had to lug all of our stuff around with us because we would be at a different facility for games and for practices. There were 10-12 different courts.
“We had a three-hour window in that facility, which included a weight room, a training room and the courts. The NBA had everything that we could possibly need. We could do what we had to do and then the NBA would sterilize the facility, sending in the environmental people to clean it. And any day that we weren’t playing, we got out to play golf – I played 11 rounds of golf.”
For Corbeil, tinkering with such high level athletic bodies was a bit of a challenge initially in The Bubble.
“The biggest issue was that the guys had more soft tissue injuries because they had to ramp up so fast after that long period of not knowing what to train for and no one could be around anybody,” he said. “Every team had hamstring, plantar fasciitis injuries. Guys were trying to get back in shape and do it in a short period of time – that’s the unfortunate byproduct of what we had to deal with this season. The logistics were fine, but that was the biggest challenge.
“Our guys were locked in, we had a good routine. Once we were there for a week, things ran smoothly. It could have been a lot worse, but the NBA gave us everything that we needed. It went well.”
Once the Pacers were eliminated from the NBA competition in a first round sweep by eventual NBA finalist Miami Heat, Corbeil had a few weeks to pause on the daily grind of NBA travel, but not in treating and preparing the Pacers for the upcoming season.
“We’ve got some of the younger guys who had some physical issues,” Corbeil said of nursing some members of the roster back to game shape.
Corbeil and his staff must keep a log of who they are working with and the time according to NBA COVID-19 protocol.
“Only the essential people can be there,” he said. “They want to trace who was in the building if somebody gets infected. We’re hoping to get a date to start workouts and begin the season. And we’ll start right back up again.
“It’s (NBA life) not for everyone and you start to learn where you are by your hotel room. It’s a routine; I can pack for a trip in five minutes. Sometimes that’s the only thing that you see — the hotel and the arena.”
But for Corbeil, it’s a special experience.
“It’s (Indiana) great ownership, great management. To be in the NBA for 16 seasons is pretty special.”
In a few weeks, Corbeil will be on the road again with the Pacers as the NBA season is scheduled to resume around the Christmas holidays. He resides outside Indianapolis in Greenwood with his wife, Ellen, their daughter Blake, and son, Dean.
“I think she’s (Ellen) ready for me to go back to work,” he said. “I’m always in the gym. Now to be forced out is different, but it’s also nice to stay home, where I don’t usually get to. I grew a beard. And I have played golf a lot more than I have before.
“It has been nice to be at home at times of the year when we would be playing two or three games a week and traveling.”
It would have been a first, too, had Corbeil beaten Larry Bird in any shooting competition.
“Would never happen,” interjected Corbeil. “That time in China was the most that I’ve ever seen him get out on the court. He would always sit and talk to guys, but he never picked up a ball. When he did that, everyone’s eyes just froze – here’s Larry Bird shooting 3’s and he’s not missing.
“Larry would come down in my office or hang out in the equipment room rather than sit upstairs in the executive office,” Corbeil said of the former Celtic great being engaged with all facets of the Pacers’ organization. “He was more comfortable with the common folk.”
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