You get how it works, right? Girls spend weeks packing their luggage. Guys pull their stuff together at the last minute. For Kevin DiPietro, that’s simply not an option. Not when you have 130 people – an entire NBA team included – heading across the Atlantic this week.

The league’s first two regular games in Europe are, in reality, anything but. In the 30 cities which habitually feature on the Toronto Raptors schedule, their hometown included, there’s a familiar set-up born of the tried and tested.

The players and staff know the drill. So too the support crew. Travelling from place to place, night after night, can be disorientating. Routine and familiarity must be imposed. The trick is to minimise the disruption, even when the fresh twist of a detour to Britain is thrown into the mix.

London is a new challenge for DiPietro (Raptors)

“One of the biggest challenges is that we have a lot more people travelling than normal,” DiPietro, the Raptors’ equipment manager and travel co-ordinator, admits.

“From a logistics standpoint, that is our biggest challenge. We have more luggage, more people, more guests and corporate sponsors. So as far as hotels go, it’s more difficult to organise, to plan the buses and the luggage trucks.

“If you do a West Coast trip and you have 40 people, it’s pretty straightforward. Here’s we’re up to about 130 people travelling. That’s my biggest concern – the logistics of it.”

While the NBA is well-versed in the jamboree of pre-season goodwill tours, the Raptors’ two meetings with the New Jersey Nets are, on court at least, strictly business. The players will have a handful of engagements and clinics. The spotlight will burn brighter than it would normally for a meeting of two lottery-bound teams. Otherwise, as it was stressed in a team meeting in Toronto on Saturday, it’s same old, same old. Winning is the sole objective.

“We’ll meet at the airport,” DiPietro outlines. “We’ll take our usual plane and board the same way as usual. The bus will pick us up as usual. Luggage will be delivered to the room. And we’ll see them the next day for practice. It’s plain and simple, even if there’s more stuff going on behind the scenes.”

The equipment guys, like their kit men counterparts in football, lurk unseen beyond the spotlight, part-gopher, part-fixer, part-counsellor in the inner sanctum of the locker room. DiPietro is a lifer in the role, having started as a ball boy when the Raptors debuted in Toronto in 1994 before working his way up the bench.

The job specification is as fluid as demands require. Ensuring the players have clean gear. Holding a stash of fresh shoes ordered in. “We just have to have everything they need to do their job,” he reflects.

“We plan meals for these guys with the chef who comes into our locker room. The equipment part is pretty easy: they have five sets of practice gear. They’re in a constant rotation. They have their shoes and everything they need in their lockers. It’s the other things that we do which makes it more complex. We try to please these guys as best we can.”

There have been, inevitably, the odd eyebrow-raising requests over the years. Many, you suspect, unfit to print. The time-honoured duty of the ball boy was often to scout for a specific kind of talent on the players behalf. DiPietro is too discrete to divulge. Chocolate bars, he says, are a more mundane but frequent request. Others have quirks that must be accommodated.

Leandro Barbosa has his own needs (NBAE/Getty)

“For example, Leandro Barbosa wears a new pair of socks for each game,” he reveals. “Some guys like to have a Red Bull before every game and in certain cities, they don’t have it. So we bring some. You get to know these guys from training camp so by the time we get to London, there are very few unknowns.”

Spending days, even weeks, together on the road establishes real bonds, he affirms. How could it not? “I see these guys more than I see my own family for seven months of the year.” When trades happen, those are personal ties broken. Likewise, the pain of a loss is shared as much as the ecstasy of victory. It is a band of brothers travelling the world, us against them.

He shares their hopes and hears their fears. Behind closed doors, secrets are shared and grievances aired, often out of the earshot of the coaching staff.

There is a fine line to negotiate in such moments, DiPietro concedes. Maintaining trust is paramount but he is also, foremost, an employee. “Because I’m an equipment guy. I hear a lot of things. Sometimes guys are blowing off steam and you let it go. But if there is something a coach should hear, you can intervene a little.”

It is a 24/7 occupation. The hours can be brutal, an ability to cope with the unexpected essential. As a rule, NBA players need and expect pampering. When dealing with often-fractious egos, winging it is simply not an option.

The compensations, DiPietro underlines, make it worth the endeavour. He has, for 82-plus nights a year, one the best seats in the house.

“If I’m in a bad mood or complaining, sometimes I forget where I am and how good I have it. But it’s the greatest job in the world. I’m getting to go to England. I get to check out cities and countries I’d never have gone to in a normal job. You build relationships with professional athletes. I tell them off the same way you’d tell off your friend. I take a lot of it for granted.”

In stressful times, there is a brotherhood to lean on. The NBA’s equipment chiefs all meet once a year, at the pre-draft workouts in Chicago, to trade tales, compare notes and swap insights. Just as there is camaraderie among opposing players, those running the show behind the show have their own fraternity.

“In fact,” he reveals, “I just got an email to reach out to Chelsea’s kit man. Someone I know who knows them is saying: ‘we’d love to hook you up and introduce you’. Whether it’s hockey or basketball, you’re tight. You get to know each other. There’s that unique bond because we all know what we all go through each day.”

Tickets for Raptors – Nets on March 4 and 5 are available at www.the02.co.uk

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