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Medical excellence: Inside Atlanta Hawks’ 'first of a kind' medical training facility

NBA franchise Atlanta Hawks and Emory Healthcare have teamed up to build a “next generation” medicine centre and training facility. Designed by architects HOK, the US$50m project is seen as groundbreaking in sports

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 02 May 2016 issue 119
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Professor Scott Boden, vice chair of Emory Healthcare’s orthopaedic surgery department
Professor Scott Boden, vice chair of Emory Healthcare’s orthopaedic surgery department

When it comes to success on court, the National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Hawks haven’t had much to cheer about – and not just recently. The team won its first and only championship in 1958 and since then achieved an unwanted NBA record of going 48 years without advancing past the second round of the playoffs – until finally breaking through last year (2015).  

Things are looking up for Hawks fans though. A new ownership group – led by businessman Tony Ressler and former NBA star Grant Hill – took control in 2015 and the duo, alongside CEO Steve Koonin, have made winning a championship the franchise’s long term goal. They have also brought with them fresh ideas on running the Hawks as a successful business and have already undertaken a rebranding which included a new logo and team colours.

NEW IDEAS
As part of the new owners’ plans to make Hawks a force to be reckoned with, the team earlier this year revealed a pioneering partnership deal with medical company Emory Healthcare. As part of the deal, the two organisations will build and operate a US$50m, 90,000sq ft medical centre which will also host the team’s new training centre.

The centre will boast the “most advanced technology in sports medicine and athletic care”, such as the 3 Tesla MRI scanner – providing diagnosis for soft tissue and bone bruise injuries – dedicated recovery areas and sensory deprivation tanks. Athletes will also benefit from individual health and recovery plans based on blood and sweat tests which analyse nutritional deficiencies.

Located in Brookhaven in the north of the city, the facility has been described as first of its kind and is expected to open in time for the 2017-18 NBA season – the 60th anniversary of the Hawks’ only championship win.

UNIQUE PROSPECT
“What makes it unique are several things,” says Pro. Scott D. Boden, vice chair of Emory Healthcare’s department of orthopaedic surgery. “First, most of the other NBA practice facilities have little or no medical care integrated at the site and often do not house exclusively sports medicine physicians. The Emory/Hawks facility is the first to locate the entire sports medicine division – 12 physicians – on the same site as the training centre and only two blocks away from the main orthopaedic department with the rest of the staff.”

According to Boden, this setup means that the specialised doctors will be able to see their normal patients at the centre while supporting the professional athletes. Cooperation will also be strengthened by the permanent presence of the Hawks’ own medical staff.

“The primary Hawks team physicians will be there but also other sports medicine subspecialists for virtually every body part and type of injury,” Boden says. “As well as strengthen cooperation, it allows co-localisation of the latest imaging technology, research facilities and full physical therapy services.”

Another unique aspect is Emory’s partnership with pioneering sports science specialist P3. Located in Santa Barbara, California, P3 has become a leader in sports science research and athletic performance measurement and already has a strong record of assisting NBA players – having worked with more than a third of the players currently in the NBA.

“P3 (peak performance project) has agreed to partner with us and make our facility their east coast base of operations,” Boden says. “They will use the centre to service professional athletes from the eastern half of the US as well as western Europe.”

CHANCE ENCOUNTERS
The blossoming partnership between Emory Healthcare and the Hawks is an example of the power of networking. “I was introduced to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin at a social dinner,” Boden reveals. “We each talked about projects we were working on and before we knew it, the possibility of building a new medical/training centre came up.

“Following initial talks, we visited several NBA practice facilities together – along with a small group from the Hawks and from Emory. It was on that trip that I developed a vision for a more medically integrated and sports science integrated practice facility for the Hawks.”

According to Boden, the friendship formed with Koonin has helped ensure the success of the partnership – especially when it came to agreeing the details of the deal. “It was complicated at first, because it required multiple pieces to come together in a compressed time frame – including the land purchase by Emory at Executive Park – and getting everyone comfortable with a long-term partnership,” he says.

Under the partnership deal, the land – which is owned by Emory University, the parent of Emory Healthcare – is leased to the Hawks. The Hawks are financing the building and the training facility with Emory Healthcare being the naming rights sponsor for the training centre, for which it pays an annual sponsorship fee to the Hawks. In addition, the Emory Clinic – a subsidiary of Emory Healthcare – will lease the medical office space for the sports medicine centre, physical therapy and sports performance enhancement from the Hawks.

WAY FORWARD
Boden says that the deal is unique in its nature and could pave the way for similar deals in other professional sports. “There are now a few NBA teams which have health care sponsors for their training facilities, but in many cases it is a pure sponsorship deal and not even with the entity which provides medical care for the players,” Boden says.

“Also, some of the medical offices located at the training facilities used by other teams are not exclusively for sports and don’t comprise an entire sports medicine physician division – coupled with research and sports science as we do.”

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