Courtney Watson is one of the few women in professional training for men

Courtney Watson joined the Trail Blazers coaching staff at the start of the 2023-24 season.

We all have a clear picture of what the bottom looks like before the players reach the top. Hours spent in high school gyms, years of skill training, then forced pit stops in college basketball or the minors to prove themselves worthy.

Then, and only If they beat incredible odds, they reach the NBA and live the dream.

But what is the basis for an NBA coach? Although shrouded in complete obscurity, the path remains the same and ambitious. And the odds? Let's compare: NBA players have 450 jobs. Head athletic trainers have 30 per team.

O: Raise those odds a bit for a girl.

So coming into her first season as the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, Courtney Watson had to work with the NBA G League, the WNBA and Floyd Mayweather at the high school level.

Oh – Floyd Mayweather?

We'll get to her time spent „with money” in a minute. In many ways, Watson is a reflection of the expanding roles women play in the NBA. Twenty years ago, most worked in sales and community relations, not players on the personnel side.

It is changing, surely in some cases, slowly in others. A A recent study by the National Library of Medicine It reveals that only 1.3% of head athletic trainers in the major sports leagues—NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL, and NHL—are women.

Watson isn't the first woman in the NBA to get the job, in Portland, she was after Jessica Cohen (now coach of the Bucks).

But maybe she heard the call before college, or knew what the job was, or one day she would be welcomed at a higher level. She is now 20 years old.

„I was made for this,” Watson said. „I'm passionate about sports, passionate about sports medicine, and seeing that collaboration, I jumped in and never looked back.”


Injury prompts a new path

He was playing basketball in Los Angeles at Westchester High School — the hometown hoops of former NBA role player Trevor Ariza — when he and a teammate were treated for a sprained ankle at a nearby sports medicine center.

The following week, Watson returned, this time as a working volunteer.

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„I knew right then,” she said.

After college, he returned to Westchester, then coached a national basketball powerhouse boys team, to teach and develop a new sports medicine training program at the school.

From there, he immersed himself in LA's basketball culture and community. An athletic trainer is needed wherever sports are played. And every so often, Watson came around to offer a service.

Through word of mouth, his constant presence and persistence, Watson connected with organizations, teams and players. Soon after, he worked in the Pro-Am True League in the NBA Developmental League (now the G League) in LA.

During this time, Watson worked with men. The optics are invisible to her, and more than a few times, when she recognizes herself and her work, she gets double benefits. A female coach is as common as a 6-foot center.

Eventually, the WNBA's Houston Comets gave her a chance. When that team folded in 2008, the Los Angeles Sparks came calling. The fit was natural. Franchise legends Candace Parker, Tina Thompson and Nneka Okwumike all vouched for her and Watson stayed there for 15 years.

It wasn't long ago that she thought she might play in the WNBA.

„My goals have changed,” he said.

And if she limits her training to the WNBA, there will be no complaints. Again – she was in sport and business.

„I've always tried to be proud and grounded in what I know,” he said. „And to shine a spotlight on our profession, to be a black woman and be able to maintain the quality of the work and deal with all the politics that comes with it.”


Watson to Mayweather: Ice it up

During his time with the Sparks, Watson was a sidekick in the boxing world. There was a connection: her uncle fought against royalty.

Sam Watson once worked at Motown Records and knew Marvin Gaye. The singer introduced him to Muhammad Ali late in Champ's career. A friendship developed and Watson was drawn to boxing.

He soon worked for a high-powered boxing consultant named Al Haymon and helped manage fighters. One was Mayweather, who needed counseling to recover from fights and avoid injury.

Courtney knew from therapy sessions spent with Parker and Kobe Bryant that sold the WNBA star on the benefits of cryotherapy. The temperature in that room will drop to almost 250 below zero.

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After being introduced to the boxer, Mayweather hesitated. „He didn't understand what an athletic trainer was, but was willing to listen,” she said.

And he had a great fear of cryotherapy.

„But once he tried it, it blew him away,” he said. „He realized the benefits of technology.”

Mayweather had another question for Watson: „What else do you know?”

Watson was a member of Mayweather's camp in epic fights with Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao, a rare woman in a sport whose jobs are usually limited to ring women.

„We've had a relationship over time,” Watson said. “After the Canelo fight, he got beat up and I sold him on stretching and taping things to help prevent some injuries and extend his career.

„He liked me and saw what an asset I was. He's a dedicated, hard worker and I think he saw the same in me. I think he saw me as an asset to his team and I'm glad I did.

There were challenges though.

„He's a nocturnal guy, so he does his training late at night and sometimes early in the morning,” he said.

That was a challenge in the Canelo fight.

„I had a Sparks game at 2 o'clock,” she said. „I went back to LA and then back to Las Vegas after the game and stayed up and worked with him after the fight.”

One reason some female athletic trainers leave the profession is the hours, especially in professional team sports. The constant travel and time away from home (and children if there are families) is hard on the lifestyle.

But then again, some are made for this.

Watson learned a lot during his time with Mayweather, whom he still considers a friend and mentor.

„He's his own coach, he's self-motivated in how he talks to himself, he's confident and determined,” she said. “All my textbook knowledge went out the window with him.

„But many times I had to explain to others what I did for him. People often thought I was the coach holding the mitts and teaching the guys how to uppercut.


Blazes a path to Portland

Watson's career took on additional layers when he earned his doctorate in athletic training in 2020 — you can now call him Dr. Watson — especially during his years spent with USA Basketball. He will be in Paris this summer with the USA Sports Medicine staff for the Olympics.

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When the Blazers job opened up last summer, by almost every metric, a woman was among the most qualified people for the job.

It was an easy call for the Blazers and easily accepted by Watson.

„Perfect fit for me,” Watson said. „I always wanted to go to a place that loved me, appreciated me, but also felt the same way about them. I wanted to share the gift of helping our team.

„Scoot Henderson and I always share that we're both new. Of course I'm not a newbie in what I do, but with this team, I'm experiencing a lot of new things just by enjoying the season. The way we travel is three times the number of cities.

Watson has an almost maternal bond with the NBA's third-youngest team, the Blazers, and their bodies, who are somewhat ignorant of how to care for them and keep them fresh.

That's where a trainer offers maintenance advice, injury prevention and anything else related to staying healthy.

„Having young players allows me to really educate and teach,” he said. „It's a great pleasure for me. They are good at what they do. I want to help extend their lives and find balance with their mind and body.

It weaved through different leagues and another sport but the climb to the top of the NBA mountain was measured anyway.

„Everything was as it should be,” Watson said. “I hope I can be here for 20 years, 25 years. I am grateful for this opportunity, but I recognize that I have grown and been able to reach my highest level and potential. I appreciate all the experiences that will help me get better next season.

I mean, for female coaches, does she qualify as a Portland Trail Blazer?

„It's about setting a journey for others to follow.”

* * *

Shawn Powell has covered the NBA for over 25 years. You can email him here, find his archive here and Follow him on X.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.

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