If you tuned into any of the Boston Celtics games this season, you’ve likely heard sports commentators and pundits remark on the physical nature of play in today’s game. What kind of impact does this aggressive style of play have on an athlete? We asked Celtics Team Cardiologist Dr. Frederick Basilico, M.D., FACC, who has been a member of the Celtics medical staff for 28 years. Formerly the head medical physician of the team, he now shares his expertise on the complexities of running an NBA medical program with David Passafaro, President of New England Baptist Hospital (NEBH), the official hospital of the Boston Celtics.
“The game has changed gradually over the years,” he said. “It’s a much more physical game now. The athletes take great care of their bodies —they are getting stronger and staying in shape — and with that, the game has become faster and more physical, with potential for more serious injuries, such as head trauma.”
While Dr. Basilico acknowledges that the likelihood of these types of injuries, like concussions, has increased, he expressed full confidence in the NBA protocols and asserts that in many ways the game is safer today as a result, as it’s led to more stringent league-wide policies.
“The athlete always wants to get back on the floor, so that is one of the toughest aspects, but the safety and health of a player is always the NBA’s top priority. The league has very strong protocols in place. They do everything they can to make the environment as safe as possible for the athlete.”
Dr. Basilico would know. Having witnessed numerous severe on-court injuries early in his career, he was inspired to dedicate his life’s work to ensuring that players are as safe as possible every time they step on the court — and even before they step on the court. In fact, in the early 2000s he was an influential driving force behind the NBA’s adoption of a comprehensive cardiac evaluation and testing policy, which he helped design. In addition, he volunteers on the Cardiac Advisory Committee for the NBA, comprised of some of the nation’s top doctors. They review protocols regularly, always tweaking to keep up with the changing pace of the game.
Dr. Basilico, himself, played four sports in high school — including basketball, of course — before going on to an exemplary medical career at top educational institutions. It’s during this journey that he landed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and New England Baptist Hospital (NEBH), in 1979, where he is currently the Physician-in-Chief for Medicine and Chief of Cardiology, among other leadership roles. His trusted medical influence at one of the nation’s top hospitals has been long-standing and is widely respected in the industry.
Dr. Basilico’s qualifications and altruistic dedication make him indispensable, and his calm and collected sensibilities earn him trust with players. He has been sprayed with champagne in the locker room; he was on the duck boats celebrating the 2008 championship parade; and he is chock-full of intriguing stories from his time on the sidelines. But Dr. Basilico has never lost sight of his mission: to keep players safe. He says that while he enjoys watching the games, his antenna is always up, staying alert for any signs of potential health issues. In his time, he has had two players he would not clear to return to play as they needed major heart surgery. After the surgeries, both were cleared to return to the court and went on to have thriving careers.
“It’s been an honor to be in this position and very exciting for me to be part of the team. The Celtics are a phenomenally great organization to work with — the staff, the players, all the way up to ownership. We’ve been through some rough years, and we’ve been through some great ones together and the Celtics have always stayed true to their core values. They do things the right way. It’s been a great honor.”
Dr. Basilico, who grew up in New England listening to Celtics games on the radio, never expected that his passion for basketball, science and math would lead him to the Celtics sidelines. But his message for young people who aspire to work in medicine or with a professional sports team is simple: go for it.
“Pursue what you’re passionate about,” he said. “The opportunities are out there.”