The truck backs up slowly to the loading dock and the men inside climb out into the dark garage. In 24 hours, the building will be alive and aglow, thousands of fans screaming as the Utah Jazz take on the Memphis Grizzlies. Tonight, however, there is only the thud-thud-thud of bag after bag after bag being thrown from the truck. This is when game day starts for Jazz equipment manager Adam Klauke.
The team’s mid-November road trip will hit five cities over the course of nine days, from Memphis to Dallas, Philadelphia to Boston, and finally wrapping up in Indianapolis.
“You’ve got to be organized,” Klauke says. “You’ve got to be able to think ahead, be two steps ahead of things. There’s a lot of planning, a lot of going over what-if scenarios.”
That all begins a couple of days before the team plane leaves Utah, with Klauke standing over a mountain of equipment outside his office in the Zions Bank Basketball Campus and taking one last look at the color-coded calendar taped to his wall. The next five games are all marked off in blue and yellow, so Klauke double checks that he has set aside the bags marked Icon and Statement.
“It’s my biggest fear,” he says. “There are times I see the visiting team warming up in blue tights and I know we’re wearing navy and I think I’ve brought the wrong jersey. Then I double check the book and—phew—we’re good.”
Klauke piles the blue Icon jerseys and the gold Statement jerseys into two large, labeled suitcases. Then he fills up another with the matching socks, compression pants, and arm bands. There’s an order to all of this: White leggings to go with the Jazz’s purple Classic uniforms and white Association edition uniform; the red rock-inspired City Edition would need black ones, a special order because black is not an official team color. But for the navy or gold uniforms the team will wear on this trip, Klauke loads up a suitcase full of navy compression pants and armbands.
Then he checks the calendar once more.
Next to the team’s uniform schedule on the wall is another sheet of paper, with the words resourceful, collaborative, professional, organized, humble, proactive, positive, passionate and communicative lined up as such to spell another word: resilient. You could mix long days and high stress into that motto to more accurately reflect the equipment manager’s life. But for Klauke, it has become a dream opportunity.
“I never thought this was going to happen,” he said. “But it’s been really rewarding and fun.”
The first arena on the Jazz’s five-game road trip is Memphis’ Grindhouse, the FedEx Forum. A night before the Jazz will beat the Grizzlies 96-88, while players and other team personnel are at dinner or the team hotel, Klauke is getting a jump start on things. He loads up three large carts and wheels them, one by one, from the loading dock to the visiting locker room.
Next, he unzips one of the dozens of bags and pulls out 15 placards. Klauke places one of the laminated strips, the one with Rudy Gobert’s name on it, in one corner, next to a locker he intends to leave empty.
“It all depends on the locker room,” Klauke says. “Rudy wants an empty locker next to him. I try to give the vets an empty space, or guys who have media surrounding them after a game.
“Then I’ll change it in the next city. I try to spread the love.”
When he’s done, he takes a step back and looks around. Then he makes a few adjustments.
“It’s never right the first time,” he said. “I always have to redo it.”
Now Klauke can get to work. He hangs the navy compression gear in each locker. He places white shower sandals under each chair. He unzips the Icon bag, distributes the navy uniforms around the room, and then carefully hangs them. He lays out the team’s warmups. Navy at home, green on the road. Unless the team is wearing the purple throwback jersey. Rules need exceptions.
He moves the massage table and medical bags into a side room. He unpacks a bag of training equipment, foam rollers and a plastic hand on a stick to help the assistant coaches during drills. A few years back, when the Jazz traded for Boris Diaw, Klauke added an espresso machine to his equipment list. Klauke doesn’t like coffee, but he will drink. He needs something to keep him going. A while back he ditched his Fitbit because he couldn’t believe the step counts.
With the warmups and uniforms in place, Klauke unzips the next bag. It’s rectangular, sectioned off inside with an 8-by-2 grid. For some, this is the most important bag.
After the last practice before the road trip, Klauke goes player by player to ask which shoes they wanted for the upcoming road trip. Each man has at least two pairs, carefully packed into a suitcase. Some have three or four for this trip.
Klauke has a pair of bright orange Adidas for Donovan Mitchell, yellow Kyries for Royce O’Neale, Nike Air Maxes for Thabo Sefolosha. This season, the NBA lifted its rules restricting shoe colors, as Klauke well knows.
“They’re all over the place since the league changed the rules,” he said. “You see Donovan in that orange neon. Then he’s wearing red one day, then some blue and yellows, then he’s wearing the painted Kickstradomis shoes.
“But in a way, it’s easier because you don’t have to be the bad guy and tell them they can’t wear a shoe because it’s not league-approved.”
Shoes, however, aren’t the only individual items Klauke has to keep track of. Just about every player and coach has a request he tries to fill. There are energy drinks for some coaches and a box of assorted candy for assistant coach Alex Jensen. Gobert wants paraben-free deodorant. Jae Crowder asks for baby oil. Mitchell’s locker, meanwhile, always gets a handful of Vicks VapoRub and Dubble Bubble chewing gum.
“I’m not really sure why,” Klauke said. “But you’ve got to make sure they have what they want.”
A moment of reflection
On game day, Klauke’s schedule will be full with the team’s shootaround, trips to the store to replenish supplies and the chaos of repacking and loading everything back onto the team plane.
But in a visitors locker room, in the quiet of an empty arena, he can step back and reflect.
Klauke was just a kid when he started selling programs at Salt Lake Buzz games. Soon, he’d been promoted to batboy and, when he was 16, he joined the Jazz as a ball boy. It was in visiting locker rooms, hanging out with equipment managers and trainers, that he first started to see the possibilities.
“Once I started being around the practices, seeing the daily grind, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” he says. “I’m a big sports fan. I’ve been going to games for 20 years, traveling full-time for four. Seeing these different arenas, new, old. The history of some of these places is incredible. I never thought I’d experience all of this. You have to take a step back and pinch yourself every once in a while.”
Then it’s right back to work.