At a recent Thursday night game, Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist leaped, took a vicious foul as he was shooting and crashed hard onto the Spectrum Center floor.
Only one person among the hundreds of NBA fans in Section 104 shot out of their seat - Novant Health orthopedist Dr. Marcus Cook.
Cook's watchful eyes never left Kidd-Gilchrist, who slowly rose, grimaced and headed to shoot two free throws. The NBA game against the Sacramento Kings in mid-January carried on, as did Cook as a courtside sentinel.
He's a team physician for the ninth straight season.
He also watched over the largest gathering of basketball talent on Feb. 17, when Charlotte hosted the NBA All-Star Game. Novant Health is the official healthcare provider for the Hornets, and the title sponsor for the all-star weekend.
Cook and fellow team physician Dr. Joe Garcia (also with Novant Health) help maintain the Hornets players' health as they grind through an 82-game regular season spanning seven months. Cook is a fixture at every Charlotte home game.
"We work with the training staff to care for the athletes on a daily basis in their maintenance of care and prevention of injuries," Cook said. "We also treat the athletes when they are injured."
Cook, 48, popped into the Hornets' training room about an hour before the game against Sacramento. He chatted with team trainers. Fortunately, none of the four players stretched out on nearby training tables was injured.
Cook watched the game 10 rows behind the Hornets bench. His eyes didn't wander. Cook catches signals most fans don't.
While the glitzy, high-definition scoreboard and flashing lights draw attention during lulls, Cook will, for example, notice a player rotating a sore wrist, shoulder or leg. A Hornets player lunged toward a rebound heading out of bounds against Sacramento. Cook knew from the player's body angle that it might compromise a hamstring. Mental note: Check on that at halftime.
"You always have to be ready," he said.
Cook's duty that night was uneventful, the way he prefers it.
"A perfect game day is boring," he said, laughing. "I don't want to be called back to the training room. I want
to have nobody that I need to see. I like to know that my guys are healthy and doing great. And a win is important, too."
Care extends to everyday patients
An NBA team physician is also responsible for the opposing team and referees. Cook made a quick postgame check in Sacramento's locker room (no issues) before doubling back to the Hornets.
Cook said the most common injuries among NBA players are ankle sprains and hamstring strains. Cuts on faces and hands often require immediate stitches. More significant injuries Cook sees include knee meniscus tears and rotator cuff tears or strains.
He's surgically repaired several Hornets over the years.
"Unfortunately, I've seen him a lot more than I wish I would," Hornets center Cody Zeller said, smiling. "I've had quite a few bumps and bruises throughout my career. Dr. Cook did my shoulder surgery (torn rotator cuff) a couple years ago and I've been real happy with the results."
Zeller, sidelined while he recovers from a broken hand, got a quick examination from Cook in the training room. It's pretty much the same routine a non-professional athlete would receive at Cook's Novant Health clinic on Randolph Road in Charlotte.
As an orthopedic surgeon, he’s taking care of shoulders, knees, hips, hands and feet for patients across the city.
"They both have the same kind of injuries," Cook said. "There are time constraints with a professional athlete. There is always a drive to get them back to play, back to being a valuable, productive member of the squad sooner. But they're people, too, and they need to be treated the same way."
"Novant Health works in conjunction with the Hornets in community outreach and philanthropic endeavors, in addition to having a great relationship for care of these athletes," Cook said. "We have a liaison that's associated with Novant Health that we can call at any time day or night. They can put them in touch with a physician or get them to the hospital, assist them in any of their needs whether it's somebody's wife having a baby to somebody having an injury in off hours."
‘Very satisfying feeling’
Dr. Larry Seitlin, the Hornets team dentist since the franchise's inception, said Cook's demeanor is an asset.
"He's just real easygoing," Seitlin said. "He doesn't get flustered. You have to enjoy it to a point where you love doing in at all hours, for example, like being called to the airport at 2 in the morning."
Cook's tall, elite clientele becomes family, in a way, as they work together to stay healthy. He was a collegiate swimmer who battled shoulder injuries, so he's been on both sides of the athlete/healthcare scale.
"I've always been fascinated with getting someone back to their pre-injury level of play," Cook said. "It's a very satisfying feeling when somebody comes back and says `Thanks for what you did. I can do what I was doing before."
You don’t have to be a professional athlete to get world-class care for your sports-related needs. Download our guide on common sports-related injuries.