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.
Teams go through an average of 600 towels during a typical game, and it is Pimental’s responsibility to make sure they are washed, dried and folded by the next day.
“It’s a one-use system,” he explained of the towels. “A guy comes out of the game, wipes his sweat, it goes straight to the washer. Each bench usually goes through 100 towels per half, 200 per game, and then we have all the shower towels and the dirty uniforms. It’s a huge laundry operation. After a game we have three washing machines going nonstop for a few hours.”
Despite the long hours and hectic travel schedule, Pimental said there’s nothing else he would rather be doing. The pinnacle, he said, was receiving a championship ring last season.
“The pressure’s a little intense at times, working for such a high-profile team, but there is a real family atmosphere here, and they treat you like you are a big part of the team no matter what your job is,” he said.
Pimental dreamed of working for a team from the time he was a preteen going to Kings games with his father.
“I was 14, looking for a cool summer job, and I’d see kids mopping up the sweat at games, and I told my dad, ‘I’m going to do that someday,’ ” He wrote letters to local equipment managers, and at 15 got a job with an arena football team. The next year, at 16, he became a Kings ball boy, and before long, he was promoted to assistant equipment manager.
“I’m the kid who would stay around and help, the kid who never went home,” he said. “I’d just show up for practices even when they didn’t ask me to, so they’d put me to work. When I turned 20, they made me head equipment manager. I still can’t believe it. My friends can’t believe it.
“When I stood there at the ring ceremony and looked around, it really hit me. I’m part of all this, part of the Heat family. I feel so lucky.”