Meet Craig Buhler, DC, team chiropractor for the Jazz.The setting for this article is the Buhler home just outside Portland, Oregon. Dr. Buhler is showing me a documentary from a Utah television broadcast that aired just prior to the 1998 NBA finals between the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls. The Jazz have just swept the Lakers in four games.
The name of the program is "Jazz Fever" and features commentary by Steve Brown of KJAZZ television in Salt Lake City. Mr. Brown is interviewing Jazz owner Larry Miller and talking about the physical nature of the game, especially in the finals. He asks Miller about the concerns owners have about injuries, which are the bane of all teams and NBA owners.
How have the Jazz escaped the ravages of injuries? Miller tells Brown that the team has been fortunate over the years with lack of injuries, but interjected that it's not just luck that's keeping the Jazz healthy.
"There is a guy behind the Jazz bench that you see at every game. He is a guy that looks familiar to you, but now you'll know his name," Brown explains. "Defense, rebounding and free throws are some of the ingredients in winning a championship, but for the last 22 years, Craig Buhler has been the Jazz's chiropractor, only one of two in the NBA."
Dr. Buhler is then interviewed by Brown. "Correcting functional and structural deviations from normal to prevent possible future injury" was one of his approaches, explains Dr. Buhler to the television audience.
"The Jazz has felt all along that there is a place for every discipline. They are willing to interact with alternative approaches," Dr. Buhler added. The Jazz claims their chiropractor is most important reason the team remains the most "injury-free" team in the league. Then they ask Dr. Buhler about his move to Portland, Oregon last summer.
Privately, before watching the documentary, Dr. Buhler tells me about his move to a lovely, wooded, five-acre ranch just outside Portland. "My wife and I were burnt out from all the stresses associated with all the demands of a busy practice and blending two families in a second marriage. Serving as team chiropractor for the Jazz was more of a hobby, but there was a lot of pressure, especially during the playoffs. We decided to give it all up and take some time to heal. We sold the practice, our new home and told the Jazz we were moving to Portland.
"The next thing that happened was a shock! The Jazz tell me they did not want to lose my services and offered me a paid position with the team. For years, I thought the Jazz saw my services as dispensable. It is nice to find out just how much they value what I do. I now fly into Salt Lake City every week for three to four days, and I am home the rest of the week with my family. Once the playoffs are over, I have the rest of the summer off: no paperwork, and no private practice."
"The fact that the Jazz have kept Dr. Buhler on is just a sign of how much they value his work," comments Brown as the KJAZZ television program comes to a close.
Forward Adam Keefe admits to having come to the Jazz with a back problem which has plagued him all through his college days at Stanford. The problem was corrected by Dr. Buhler, he says.
Former Jazz center Mark Eaton says that there is no one better for optimizing performance and getting a player back on the court faster than Craig Buhler.
Larry Miller then closes the program: "If Dr. Buhler can get to a sprained ankle, it won't swell. Getting to the players quickly is the key," he says.
Dr. Buhler feels the pressure for keeping the Jazz (NBA finalists in both 1997 and 1998) healthy. "The little things are not allowed to become big things when the sports medicine staff works together. This is the secret behind the success of the Jazz and their low injury rate," he adds.
Dr. Buhler's recognition didn't come overnight. When the New Orleans Jazz were sold and the franchise was moved to Salt Lake, head trainer Don Sparks was interviewing for a number to team physicians. Mr. Sparks contacted Karl Hawkins, DC. Karl practiced applied kinesiology in Salt Lake and was a friend of a chiropractor who the Jazz had used when the team was based in New Orleans. Dr. Hawkins was asked to start working with the Jazz but declined, turning the opportunity over to Dr. Buhler.
Dr. Buhler had just spent two years working for Dr. Alan Beardall during his junior and senior years at Western States Chiropractic College. Dr. Beardall was developing a protocol he called clinical kinesiology for the evaluation and correction of athletic injuries. Not only was it a precision approach for the evaluation of injuries, it was highly effective for determining predisposition for injuries. Dr. Buhler had just opened his practice and was leasing space in Dr. Hawkins' office. "Sparky (Don Sparks) came in to interview me and described a problem he had with his ankle for a number of years. I evaluated and treated the ankle and when he stood up on it, the pain was gone."
The next day, Sparky brought in the Jazz star forward, Adrian Dantley. Dantley had been having some problems since his college days that had never responded to the regular physical therapy modalities and medical approach. Dr. Buhler was able to define and correct the problem. From that time on, Sparky began referring players to Dr. Buhler's office, but that was the extent of his involvement.
Sparky asked Dr. Buhler to call a chiropractor that had been working with the Boston Celtics, and to find out the arrangement the team had made with him. The Celtic chiropractor was in the locker room before every home game, was given season tickets, and was paid for each game he worked. Sparky approached the Jazz management with the idea and Dr. Buhler was in, minus the pay.
Dr. Leander donated a distraction table for Dr. Buhler's use in the locker room. When the Jazz built the new Delta Center, in Salt Lake, they designed a room specifically for Dr. Buhler.
"When Larry Miller bought the Jazz, Sam Battistone, the previous owner, told Larry to keep me on and told Larry why," recalls Dr. Buhler. "Larry kept things as they were. Sparky remained the head trainer and his staff remained the same. I had to maintain incredible diplomacy to keep myself out of trouble with the other physicians on staff. There were times when there were conflicts between the team orthopedist and myself in which I backed off rather than created a confrontation. Other teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks have had a team chiropractor, but he and the team physician were at such odds that the chiropractor didn't last long. Now the chiropractor is on a referral, as needed basis which is limited according to the Bucks trainer."
The 1997-98 season was the first that Dr. Buhler worked exclusively for the Jazz full time. The season involved attendance before, during and after all home games, and meeting the team for long East Coast road trips. During the playoffs, he attends all home games and travels with the team on all their road games. "This does not give me much time at home, but my family understands. I set my portable table up in my hotel room and wait for the players to call to be worked on. Most of my work involves maximizing function rather than treatment of injuries. It's the playing time that predispose players to injuries, so the players who put in the most time on the floor are the ones who call me the most."
Jeff Hornacek, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Bryan Russell (all starters) and Adam Keefe tend to use Dr. Buhler more than other players. However, every player is evaluated before every game using motion palpation and muscle testing. If indicated, they are adjusted as well. "The rookies usually are not willing to have much to do with a chiropractor," says Dr. Buhler. "A sprained ankle is usually what brings them in for the first time. The veteran players pester them to get in and let me treat them. After they are treated for the first time and see the results, they are sold."
Dr. Buhler is putting together an organization to help promote and train professional team chiropractors using the particular style of treatment he has proven to be consistently effective. "Spinal adjustments are the key and core of everything I do," said Dr. Buhler. I had been in practice for 16 years before I learned what chiropractic is at an ADIO seminar. I learned how to toggle recoil from Dr. Kale. Dr. Donnie Epstein taught me how to approach the chiropractic healing process with honor and dignity. The philosophy of chiropractic was the key I had never received in all my training. The philosophy completely changed my life.
"As Dr. Sigafoose says, miracles began to happen in mine and in patient's healing process. However, in the professional athletic arena, there is not a lot of time to engage in a healing process. The focus changes to correction and balancing. Other strategies other than chiropractic are needed. If I only used chiropractic with these athletes, my results would not be as good as they have been. Clinical kinesiology is the other side of the equation that has lead to the consistent results that have been achieved. Once the athlete has experienced the results, they are sold for the rest of their career. It's a matter of selling the athlete on this, because the NBA is still very much controlled by the medical profession and the medical model."
Dr. Buhler is optimistic about chiropractic taking an ever increasing role in treating professional athletes and a greater percentage of the general public. "We sell ourselves short with what we are capable of doing. We get too caught up in the politics. When a chiropractor delivers an adjustment at the right time and in the right way, magic is produced. If we can produce magic in athletes consistently, it's only a matter of time before everyday people are sold."