It's 5:45 p.m. on April 6, an off day for the Knicks, but New York trainer Mike Saunders has his hands full in room 1618 of the Ritz Carlton hotel in Buck-head, Ga., near Atlanta. "O.K, Anthony, now press hard!" Saunders tells New York guard Anthony Bowie, who is squeezing a plierslike device called a hand dynamometer to ease the tendinitis in his right wrist. "That's it. Now again, only harder."
As Saunders treats Bowie, guard Brooks Thompson lies facedown on a sofa in the room watching TV, his aching lower back wired to an electrical stimulator on the coffee table, and forward Ben Davis sits reading a magazine as his sore left ankle soaks in a tub of ice. Soon, center Patrick Ewing will drop in to continue rehab on his dislocated right wrist. "I like to keep my door open so guys can stop by when they want," says Saunders, 45. "I haven't found a room yet with a revolving door."
For Saunders, who's in his 20th season with New York, it's a fairly typical day on the road. After arriving in Atlanta at 2 a.m. on the team charter from Boston—where the Knicks had suffered a 102-92 loss to the Celtics earlier that night—he rose at nine to return phone messages, arranged a 1 p.m. practice at the Georgia Dome (like most NBA trainers, Saunders is also his team's traveling secretary), booked a conference room in the hotel for a 3 p.m. team meeting and prepared for the sore and weary bodies that would visit him until dinnertime.
During his informal office hours Saunders will tape ankles, massage back muscles and oversee rehab sessions. Arrayed about his room are plastic tubs, huge rolls of adhesive tape and extra hotel towels. As usual, Saunders has ordered two 10-pound bags of ice from room service. "We've got thousands of dollars' worth of equipment," he says, "but ice is still the best tool."
Which isn't to say that Saunders doesn't appreciate technology. Among his gadgets are an electrical stimulator the size of a cigarette pack and a hand-wrist exerciser hooked to a laptop computer programmed with video games. Thus Bowie can play video soccer—maneuvering the goalkeeper with his sore wrist—to speed his rehab. "We take a lot of equipment [on the road], because anything can happen," says Saunders, who rents a minivan to haul his gear. "The bellhops love to see us coming."
Saunders tries hard to maintain an upbeat atmosphere in his room. He keeps magazines and computer games handy, orders lots of in-room movies and gladly cedes control of the TV remote. "Twenty years ago, guys watched cartoons," he says. "When I was treating Charles Oakley for his knee pain earlier this year, we watched the financial channel every day."
The players appreciate Saunders' attention to detail. "Mike's the best trainer in the NBA," says Bowie, holding out his wrist and twisting it freely. "Now if he could only get me some more minutes."