Inside Dish sat with Team Physician T.O. Souryal before Game 2 in San Antonio on Monday night and chatted about his history with the Dallas Mavericks organization.
How long have you been the Mavericks team doctor and how did you get started here?
This is my 16th season with the team. I got started with the Mavericks when I was training at Parkland Hospital. I was on rotation with the Mavericks team physician, Pat Evans, and he asked me to help him with the team so I became his apprentice. After four years of being an apprentice, Pat retired. At the time Norm Sonju was the General Manager of the Mavericks and he asked me if I wouldn’t mind staying on as team physician. This was a week before the season was to start so I told him that I needed 24 hours to talk it over with my wife because she was pregnant with out first child. Honestly, the job was a major commitment so I needed her input. Obviously she said ‘okay’ and here we are 16 seasons down the road. Actually, there was a five year gap where I was not the team doctor because of a contractual agreement with a hospital and I did not want to move my practice at the time, so for those five years I was not the team doctor. But when that contract expired, Mark (Cuban) asked me to come back. Did you get all that? Bottom line – this is my 16th season as team physician, but it was not all in a row. It was 8 years, then a gap of 5 years, then 8 more years.
What are the responsibilities of a team doctor?
You know I have always viewed my position as the number 1 safety officer. My primary responsibility is to protect the athletes. Sometimes I protect them from themselves, because a lot of times these guys will have an injury and they don’t know how serious it is and they try to push through it. My job is to explain to them and manage what is risky and not risky as it pertains to each injury. The other part of my job is pre-season physicals, which I take very seriously. We instituted a new physical program in the beginning of the 2002-03 season that has since been adopted by every team in the NBA. I am very proud of this program. Despite having these incredibly elaborate pre-season physicals, we still cannot promise these guys that they are not going to get injured or that they are completely 100 percent evaluated. You just never know what is going on inside someone’s body.
What about your day-to-day responsibilities as team doctor?
A majority of the day-to-day operations are handled by Casey Smith, the Head Athletic Trainer of the team. Probably 90% of the problems that come up are addressed by Casey without me ever being involved. We talk every other day on the phone or by e-mail about specific issues that a player might be experiencing, or the need for a certain treatment plan or consultation. He makes my job much simpler because he is the first line of defense to all the common issues that might come up. He is very capable at his job and one of the best trainers in the league.
Do you travel with the team?
Almost all of the doctors in the NBA have day jobs. We all have our regular practices. I cannot imagine that it would be possible to run a practice and travel with the team during the regular season. The road trips are sometimes a week long. It was agreed upon early, way before my time in the NBA, that the home team doctor is available to cover the visiting team’s needs as well. That worked really well in all cases for regular season and playoffs until about 25 years ago. Now this is folklore, a story that I was told, I cannot verify that it is completely the truth, but I was told that the reason that doctors are required to travel during the playoffs had to do with a situation that occurred right here in San Antonio. The visiting team’s top player suffered a small cut above his eye in the first half and the San Antonio team doctor, obviously playing politics, took an entire half to put a couple of stitches in the player’s head. The visiting team complained and the complaint went all the way to the top of the NBA and as result, the verdict came down that from now on you have to bring your own doctor to sew up your own lacerations during the playoffs. So that is why I am sitting here in San Antonio with you.
What about home games in Dallas?
Yes, I go to all the home games in Dallas. I sit in the stands and watch the game very closely. I feel that when I am at the game I am not there to be entertained - I am there to work. I am focused when I am there because I get a tremendous amount of information if I see the injury happen. If I can see the injury, it gives me an advantage when I examine the player. If, for whatever reason, I don’t have the angle to see the injury firsthand, I stop by the video room to look at the injury from 3 or 4 different angles before I see the player. This way I know exactly what I am looking for when I examine the injury.
Where is your day job?
My practice is Texas Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics. Our main office is in University Park, but we also have offices in Los Colinas and Frisco. I have four partners who all have their own areas of specialties, but I primarily focus on knees.
You also have a radio show on Saturday mornings?
Yes, I actually started the radio show two months after I started my second stint with the Mavericks. It was something that was in the works prior to my return as the team physician. It is on ESPN radio in Dallas and we are now in the 8th season.
What do you guys talk about on the radio show?
Well, it is primarily sports medicine. It is a call-in show and we get calls from all over North Texas. In fact, because of the internet, we have also had calls from Kuwait and Japan – which I think is kind of neat. People call in with questions about their sons and daughters and their various ankle injuries or knee injuries. I try not to give any opinions on the air because that is really not my job, but I just spend the few hours filling in definitions for them -- just explaining the general description of each injury and how it might affect them. I also get a lot of calls about players on the Mavericks, which I obviously avoid discussing.
Obviously, we know you are married and have at least one child?
Yes, I have been married to my wife, Karen, for 20 years and we have three children. Sam is 18 and is graduating from Cistercian this spring and will be starting at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. My oldest daughter is Bradley Kate, and she is a junior at Hockaday. My youngest daughter is Abigail, and she is a freshman at Hockaday. We also have an English Golden Retriever named Bear.
What kind of car do you drive?
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Favorite TV show?
Current or old? Currently, it is SportsCenter, but it used to be M*A*S*H and I never pass up a re-run.
Favorite super hero?
Superman by a mile.
Favorite late night snack?
Pizza from Stromboli’s.
Favorite restaurant in Dallas?
Favorite restaurant in general?
Hakkasan in London.
How do you like your eggs?
How do you like your steak?
Favorite musician or musical group?
If you weren’t an orthopedic surgeon, what career do you think you would have chosen?
I would have liked to be an airline pilot, because I would love the travel aspect of the job.