Joe Cuomo is an Equipment Manager for the Brooklyn Nets. This means that Joe leads the charge on a myriad of logistical aspects of the Nets organization from equipment and apparel inventory to transport. I first learned of Joe Cuomo during the 2019 NBA Summer League when he was on court presenting a cheque to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with fellow equipment managers. Joe is extremely intelligent, pleasant, selfless, and inquisitive and it was a pleasure to chat with him about his career in sport. He talks about managing equipment for the Brooklyn Nets entails and what some of the challenges are in such a unique role. Enjoy!
Tell us about your role as the Equipment Manager with the Brooklyn Nets.
As the Equipment Manager for the Brooklyn Nets, I oversee all Equipment Operations and Team Travel Logistics. No one singular day is the same as the next, each presenting its own demands and challenges. One aspect of my job that is always present is the need to be proactive and prepared weeks (sometimes months) ahead. I begin each day by sending and responding to emails.
Once that is complete, I’m working on itineraries, placing orders, and booking hotels/flights for anyone needing travel accommodations. Handling equipment and working with players is my passion. I make it a point to be on the court and around the locker room to ensure the players have what they need to be able to perform at the highest level. Their needs can often take the form of having the right pair of sneakers, the right bag for their shoes and clothes, padded compression, or something as simple as an extra pair of socks.
Throughout the day, I am still receiving a steady stream of emails, so I periodically return to my office to handle any urgent matters. I am able to do this by relying heavily on my Team Attendants to handle the laundry and ensure the cleanliness of the court and locker room areas.
Now to Pre-Season:
Perhaps the most intense part of the year for me! During preseason, I’m still trying to get a feel for the new players’ habits and preferences. Communication is key! That applies not only with the players but also with the Performance staff and Coaches. I start preparing for how equipment is going to be packed and stored for travel. As the main person handling equipment on the road, I have learned that procuring the proper trunks, cases and bags is crucial to the overall success and efficiency of team travel.
During Season (& Playoffs):
The intensity of the season does wind down a bit as processes and habits become ingrained and established. Nevertheless, it is important for me to continue to be a step ahead with travel itineraries, hotel room lists and flight manifests, practices on the road, and meal orders.
One main responsibility that is very time-consuming is ordering our Nike gear for the following season (yes, we actually have to order gear a whole year in advance!). This means that I will have to place my 2020-21 season order by the beginning of November 2019. This task can be very challenging especially when you consider how much an NBA roster can change over the course of a year and off-season. Knowing how to properly forecast and keep up with industry trends is very important when it comes to placing the big season order.
If we are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, nothing really changes process-wise. I would like to think it is important to continue with the routines and procedures that helped us get to this point. Nevertheless, it is necessary to be more attentive, proactive, detailed when more meaningful games are being played.
Most of what I do is prepare for the season ahead in the offseason. All of the Nike gear items that I ordered back in November deliver sporadically throughout the entire summer. I unpack these items immediately, check for any errors, remove individual shrink-wrap, un-tag, and fold every item (my Team Attendants really do a great job assisting in this process). I also use this time to continue to be proactive and improve processes.
- How can I best organize items inside my equipment room?
- Which supplies need to be ordered?
- What are our preferred hotels in each city for the upcoming season?
I also use this time to further build upon business relationships and collaborate with partners such as Nike, Red Bull, McDavid, New Era, and other departments within the Nets organization. Once or twice every summer, I will meet with someone in Marketing to create the Uniform Wearing schedule that will outline which jersey the team will wear for each game of the upcoming season. The goal is to have basketball operations and business needs to align in an effort to best serve the organization well before the start of the season.
Lastly, I also recruit, interview, hire, train new Team Attendants at either the HSS Training Center or Barclays Center for the upcoming season. I try to use weekends as a time to relax, recuperate, and spend time with my loved ones.
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The offseason has become increasingly busy! When I first started with the Nets, players tended to conduct the bulk of their offseason training in their hometowns. Fast forward 8 years, the landscape has changed quite a bit. I think the primary reason for this is that NBA practice facilities have become state of the art. Players want to train with the best equipment and receive the best medical care. Between pre-draft workouts, free agent camps, summer league, and off-season training, the NBA offseason has become more of a ‘9 to 5 job’ for me. It is very rare now to not see at least a handful of players throughout a regular work week (M-F).
There are several stereotypes about equipment managers. Many people view us as launderers, whose job is simply to wash and dry clothes all day. As the role of the Performance and Medical support staff have become more specific (i.e. athletic training, physical therapy, strength, psychology, massage, etc.), the role of the Equipment Manager has become more diverse and broad. It is now common for NBA Equipment Managers to possess untraditional roles and responsibilities in Team Travel Logistics and Facility Operations. Overall, I feel like we have become a sort of “Concierge” to the team. The ability to problem solve is a necessary skill that one must also posses in the presence of daily challenges and changing demands.
Another preconceived connotation is that Equipment Managers are frugal and ungenerous when it comes to issuing team gear. I make it a priority to always have a healthy inventory of gear to distribute to any player, coach, or staff member. An adage that I’ve coined around my equipment room is, “If I’ve got it, I will give it!” However, that does not mean that the equipment room is a 24-hour giveaway center. As long as mutual respect for one another exists, I take pride in helping my fellow teammates and serving their equipment needs. I expect that anyone who receives and requests items will also respect me and my role as a caretaker of team-issued gear. All laundry should be properly “looped” for ease in laundering. Lockers should be kept neat and tidy. Requests for additional items are welcomed, but this practice should not be abused. Individuals must take ownership of the items they receive and not leave them around the gym or scattered throughout the locker room.
How much freedom and creativity do you have in your role as the Equipment Manager of the Brooklyn Nets?
I’m granted a great amount of freedom and creativity when it comes to scripting game uniforms and accessories. The main sources of inspiration are the players’ voices, and it is paramount to involve them in the process. For example, the idea for the ‘Brooklyn Camo’ shooting sleeve that paired so well with our Nike City Edition uniforms last season was an idea that was birthed by me. It was received well by our players, who had previously embraced the city color palate and desired more of it.
Other times, I will take old items and repurpose them to meet growing needs or trends. For example, I have had the sleeves cut and re-stitched on hoodies and game jackets to become short sleeve or sleeveless practice tops. If a player sustains an uncommon injury and is looking for some extra support, I can design a custom compression piece by taking a sheet of padding, cutting it to the exact specifications of the player, and pressing and sewing the padding into his garment at the desired placement.
Other forms of creativity have come in the form of product activation that often involved sponsorship and partnership marketing. I’ve helped design coolers with Red Bull, shared ideas with Nike, and created logos for special occasions.