Physical therapist Judy Seto — most famously known for her work with Kobe Bryant during the latter stretch of his career— was reportedly hired back by the Lakers this weekend.
But while she’s most known for working with Bryant, there’s no doubt that Seto is extremely well-respected in the sports world irrespective of her time spent working with Kobe. For example, here’s what prominent therapist Stephania Bell — who consults for ESPN — had to say:
We still haven’t been given details on Seto’s exact position — details haven’t been easy to come with this front office this summer — so we don’t know what capacity exactly she’ll be operating in. In the meantime, if you want if you want an excellent, thorough review of her previous time with the Lakers and more information, read this piece by Silver Screen and Roll’s own Harrison Faigen.
But I wanted more information than just that. I wanted to find out what makes Judy Seto so well-respected, and leaves her considered one of the better sports therapists in the land. To do that, I reached out to multiple people who are familiar with her and her approach. These people haven’t worked with her directly, but the high-level sports medicine community isn’t a large one, so word gets around.
When discussing what has made Seto successful, these people kept coming back to four distinct, yet connected themes:
1 - Seto is detailed
The first thing that jumped out is that Seto is extremely meticulous and detailed with her work, a quality that has publicly drawn Kobe’s praise multiple times over the years. She not only understands anatomy and physiology well, but she’s able to place it within the full context of the body’s kinetic chain, overall movement, sport, and biological healing process; overlaying it all within her rehab protocols.
2 - She’s process-oriented
The second strength is that she’s process rather outcome focused. What this means is that she creates a clear plan of attack with methodical steps to achieve the goal.
She understands that outcomes are the by-product of a sound and structured process that focuses on each incremental step. You hit every step, and eventually you’re at the top of the mountain.
3 - Work ethic
Seto is willing to do whatever it takes to help her patients. We have multiple examples of that from her time with Bryant, as she was essentially his around-the-clock physical therapist during the latter stages of his career. When she commits, she’s all in with extreme focus — another quality that aligned with Kobe, and likely why he’s constantly sung her praises.
Further, and arguably more importantly, Seto is as diligent toward improving her own skills and craft as she is helping patients. As a physical therapist, it’s critical to constantly work on and refine your own skills.
4 - The fundamentals
Last but certainly not least, I was told multiple times that Seto is a “master of the fundamentals” — the Tim Duncan of sports therapists if you will. She doesn’t overcomplicate rehab and understands what interventions will be the most efficient and effective. This understanding of the “biggest bang for the buck” is key in sports therapy, where time is of the essence.
For a practical example of this, take this story Seto recounted to Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated, about how she chose one piece of equipment to take on the road with her and Kobe due to its multi-functionality and carry-over to basketball:
“There’s a machine called a Shuttle. It’s a leg press. It’s multifaceted because you can change the resistance. But you can do leg press exercise, you can do explosive jumping off of it, you can do calf work, you can do core work, you can do glute work, hip work, hamstring work.
That snippet sums up her fundamental approach. Seto doesn’t need advanced gadgets, rather she utilizes her understanding of how the body works, how to stress it appropriately, and the specific demands of the sport.
When you combine those three things with the previous three points I mentioned, you have an elite sports therapist in Judy Seto. Now that she’s returned, the Lakers do, too.
Dr. Rajpal Brar has a doctorate in physical therapy from Northern Arizona University, and runs his own sports medicine and performance business, 3CB Performance, in West LA and Valencia, CA. He also works at a hospital — giving him experience with patients in the immediate healthcare setting and neurological patients (post stroke, post brain injury) — and has been practicing for 1.5 years. Brar is additionally training at UCLA’s mindful awareness research center (MARC), and analyzes the Lakers from a medical perspective for Silver Screen and Roll.