Next time you’re struggling to squeeze your carry-on suitcase into the overhead bin, imagine what it’s like to be Rob Pimental, an experienced business traveler who shows up for flights with 2,500 pounds of luggage and 65 pairs of expensive shoes.
Pimental is the Heat’s head equipment manager, and packing the defending NBA champions for a road trip is no small task. He packs for a traveling party of 48, which includes some of the league’s most high-profile and pampered athletes.
It is his job to make sure every player has not only four full sets of uniforms — two black and two red — but also customized sneakers (four or five pairs per player), undergarments and socks of choice, headbands, wristbands, elbow and knee pads, ankle braces, mouth guards, practice gear and warmup suits. He also packs 12 basketballs for practice.
His office is a Heat fan’s dream closet — floor-to-ceiling shoe boxes filled with impossible-to-buy sneakers, racks of Heat jerseys and shelves filled with Heat gear in every size.
He spent 19 years with the Sacramento Kings and joined the Heat last season, so he has learned the art of packing. The key, he says, is keeping checklists. He has many of them. Mostly on his iPad, and he checks them three and four times before every trip.
“You have to be organized, a step ahead of everyone else,” he said. “If someone doesn’t have something, it’s on me. And it’s not like you can go to Foot Locker and pick up a pair of LeBron’s custom shoes or D-Wade shoes. You have to be ready for anything, have backups for the backups and learn the ins and outs of each guy. LeBron, for example, likes certain things like his special padded elbow sleeves, headbands, wristbands, and he likes a variety of shoes, where a guy like Chris Andersen will wear one pair of shoes until they break.”
Vlade Divac, the retired Serbian NBA center who played for the Lakers, Hornets and Kings, was the most frugal about his shoes, Pimental said. He wore the same shoes for 82 games.
“Each guy has different needs. My goal is for the players to have nothing but basketball to think about.”
For the coaches, he packs polo shirts, T-shirts, shorts, warmups, socks, sneakers and clipboards. In case of wardrobe malfunctions, he brings safety pins and a sewing kit. Pimental learned to sew early in his career, when he did a stint with the San Francisco 49ers and had to sew players’ names onto their jerseys during training camp.
The medical and training staffs take along their gear, as well. Pimental said he packs 25 to 30 equipment bags for each trip, and they total roughly 2,500 pounds. That doesn’t include the players’, coaches’ and executives’ personal luggage.
Once the team plane lands, Pimental is in charge of getting all the equipment to the arena and the players’ luggage to the hotel, where it is tagged and delivered to their rooms.
He started packing for the trip to Indianapolis on Wednesday night, after the Game 1 overtime win over the Pacers. Pimental and his assistant Roger Perez stayed at AmericanAirlines Arena until 3 a.m. Thursday morning, doing laundry and packing equipment. They were back at work by 9 a.m., setting up the locker room for practice.
When the players arrived for practice Thursday, they found their full practice uniforms neatly displayed at their lockers, down to the accessories. There are also clean towels at their disposal.