NBA Players Seek Out Physical Therapist and European Osteopath Fabrice Gautier for His ‘Magic’ Treatment
LOS ANGELES -- He’s never played in the NBA, but few have contributed to more miraculous comebacks than European osteopath and physical therapist Fabrice Gautier.
In March 2015, when Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles, doctors quoted nine months to a year to recover. After working with Fabrice for six years, Nicolas Batum naturally recommended him to Wesley, his teammate in Portland at the time. Fabrice was able to shave off two months of recovery, so that Wesley could return in time for his first training camp with the Dallas Mavericks in the fall of 2015. Nicolas called Wesley then to hear how recovery went with Fabrice—though he already knew the answer.
“Damn,” Wesley told Nicolas. “Your man is great.”
“Told you,” Nicolas replied.
“Usually when you tear the Achilles, you’re in the NBA for another two years, and that’s it,” Fabrice tells CloseUp360 inside his office in Beverly Hills. “The stats, that’s what they say.”
Almost four years later, Wesley is still playing—healthy and starting every game for the Dallas Mavericks. But Fabrice’s magic goes further than building players back up. He can just as easily predict when and how they’ll break down.
In 2010, Nicolas sent Greg Oden, his teammate and former No. 1 overall pick in 2007 by the Portland Trail Blazers, to Fabrice. After just one visit with Greg, Fabrice was able to determine the severe condition of his troublesome left knee—and predict exactly what would happen if the seven-footer continued to run on it.
“I said, ‘If they make him run, he'll need microfracture surgery because [of] his kneecaps. He needs to be with me five weeks to rebuild his knee,’” Fabrice recalls.
“Two days later, that same week, I remember. Bang, surgery,” Nicolas says. “He called it. He literally called [it] two days before.”
And when, during Game 2 of a first-round series against the Miami Heat in 2016, Nicolas suffered an ankle sprain that would take two to three weeks to heal, Fabrice came to the rescue. After working on his ankle for seven hours straight, which included draining the blood out of the inflamed area, Fabrice, with the help of the Charlotte Hornets staff, had him ready to play in Games 5, 6, and 7.
“He has this magic in his hands,” Nicolas says. “He knows what’s wrong with my body before I say something. And he’s right. Every time he’s right.”
For the past 14 years, Fabrice has helped players around the league with his healing hands. He’s gone the extra mile to treat—and often travel to—the likes of Kevin Love, Tony Parker, Rudy Gobert, Joakim Noah, Evan Fournier, Eric Gordon, Bismack Biyombo and D.J. Augustin, be it to keep their bodies aligned during the season or engineer unfathomably fast returns from injuries during the playoffs.
But Fabrice’s path to becoming “The Flying Osteopath” and “The Body Mechanic” was paved as much by a passion for physical therapy as his own dreams of leaving a legacy on the hardwood.
Fabrice Gautier works on D.J. Augustin at The Ritz-Carlton in downtown Los Angeles. (Aaron Massarano)
Dreamers from all over the world have long ventured to Los Angeles in hopes of making magic in show business. But for Fabrice, the “magic” of Hollywood meant Magic Johnson, and show business meant the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s.
“At 13 years old, my goal was to play in the NBA with Magic Johnson,” Fabrice says. “I was a white kid in a Parisian suburb. I didn't know anything, but I liked [Magic’s] smile and the Showtime. I fell for it.”
Fabrice’s love of the Lakers specifically and the NBA in general blossomed without the benefit of actually watching either. Without NBA games on TV in France during his childhood, his passion for the game grew from studying magazine articles about the vaunted Finals matchups between Magic and Larry Bird.
“I would read about Game 1 and Game 2,” Fabrice says, “but then I would have to wait a full month to get the end of the story.”
In a country where the sport hardly existed, Fabrice found a hoops obsession, along with an interest in bodily wellness, recovery and healing.
“I was always playing with ACE bandages, wrapping my ankle on my own,” he says. “I still was playing with Legos, but I was always taping my ankle when I was a very young kid.”
With physical therapy piquing his interest, Fabrice became particularly intrigued by Richard Dacoury. Though he was best known as the most decorated champion in the history of the French basketball league, Fabrice had also heard about his pursuit of physical therapy, even while preparing for the 1984 Summer Olympics in LA.
“Back then, I remember thinking it, it's a good plan B,” Fabrice says. “You sprain your ankles, then you go see a physical therapist. So I had a little bit of a front-row seat to see how it was happening, and I really started to like it.”
Fabrice's participation certificate from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. (A.J. Lising)
After completing his baccalaureate (the equivalent of the American SAT) in France, Fabrice spent a year in Minneapolis in hopes of furthering his basketball career. He attended Southwest High School, but wasn’t permitted to play because he had technically already graduated in France.
Instead, he found other places to work on his game, playing pickup at the Target Center—the longtime home of the Minnesota Timberwolves—and in church rec leagues whenever he could. In 1992, he returned to France to play in the preseason with the under-21 team of Levallois Metropolitans, a French pro club based in Levallois-Perret. But a tibial stress fracture forced him to retire from basketball.
Though that ended his dream of becoming a professional hooper, Fabrice still had a vision for physical therapy. And the treatment he received for that injury from an osteopath exposed him to the power and potential of that profession.
That’s when, in 1993, Fabrice applied to the European Center for Education in Functional Rehabilitation, and was one of 50 people selected (out of about 4,000 applicants) to study at the school in Saint-Denis, just north of Paris. The curriculum included lots of manual training, with upwards of five hours of massage per week for an entire calendar year to start.
“You develop your hands,” he says. “You develop your skills.”
While there, Fabrice attended a presentation by Jean-Pierre Guillaume, an osteopath and the director of the European College of Osteopathy
“That guy was so passionate about his job that I was, like, ‘Wow, that's something I really want. I want to do that,’” he recalls.
But first, Fabrice had to complete his compulsory service in France’s military, as the physical therapist for the train and transportation department. Once that was done, he went on to graduate in 2002 from that same college under Jean-Pierre.
Fabrice continues his treatment on Nicolas. (A.J. Lising)
Even after achieving his goal of becoming a physical therapist and European osteopath in France, Fabrice still felt the magnetic magic of Los Angeles pulling at him. In February 1999, he and his wife, Alexandra, moved more than 5,600 miles west from Paris to LA, where he earned his certification as a physical therapist from the Physical Therapy Board of California.
In 2003, Fabrice opened his own practice in Beverly Hills. Two years later, he rekindled his old flame with the NBA. That summer, a French magazine correspondent who was a friend of Fabrice’s invited him to check out an NBA Summer League game in Long Beach. There, fellow Frenchman Ronny Turiaf was playing as a recently-drafted rookie for the Lakers.
“I wasn't even following that much of basketball anymore,” Fabrice says. “It was like I had my dream broken. I was playing, but I wasn’t really into it.”
Six months later, Fabrice and Ronny bonded in LA over fresh foie gras at the since-closed French restaurant Lilly’s in Venice. Ronny then introduced Fabrice to Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and other NBA players with French ties. Those players, in turn, recommended Fabrice to the French national basketball team, which hired him in 2009 to serve as their osteopath. During his five years with “Les Bleus,” he treated the team at the 2012 London Olympics and EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia, with France winning gold at the latter.
During those five years, Fabrice's clientele grew by word of mouth. Gunnar Peterson, a LA-based celebrity trainer who’s currently the Lakers' director of strength and endurance training, connected him to Carmelo Anthony, then playing for the Denver Nuggets. And Fabrice’s clients from the French national team recommended him to their colleagues in the NBA, as Nicolas did with Wesley and Greg while in Portland.
But Fabrice credits more than just his connections for his growing clientele.
“There is a touch, there is a connection between me and the patient—a physical connection,” Fabrice says. “Whatever happens when I work [with my] hand, they feel it. And there are results. I think overall why I keep having those guys [return] for so long is that, at the end of the day, you get results.”
A wall inside Fabrice's office, covered with inscriptions from his clients. (A.J. Lising)
Fabrice’s office at LA Main Physical Therapy in Beverly Hills is filled with art inspired by sports, none more so than a towering painting of a young Magic Johnson preparing to shoot a basketball. Surrounding the facsimile of the Hall of Famer are scores of messages to Fabrice scribbled onto the walls in permanent marker by his NBA and WNBA disciples—from Wesley, Joakim and Manu Ginobili to Chelsea Gray and Jacki Gemelos—as well as other star athletes who have benefited from his techniques, including Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees, P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators and Belarusian tennis pro Victoria Azarenka.
Thank you. Amazing. God bless you. Grateful.
Nowadays, Fabrice shares his practice with Barrence Baytos, a neuromuscular physical therapist who has worked with NBA players, including Kobe Bryant.
“I'd never wanted a big facility where you have tons of people and five different physical therapists,” Fabrice says. “I'm hands-on, one-on-one.”
As for his job title, it reflects the blend of physical therapy and osteopathy that he employs in his practice. He prides himself on using both techniques according to the needs of each patient. Like the funky art and photography that fills his office, his techniques and treatments stand out from what many of his professional athlete clients would encounter with chiropractors and other physical therapists.
“The [osteopath] concept is more global where the body is considered as a unit. Whereas in chiropractic, it seems that it's a little bit more [about] the spine and [it has a] tendency to look at asymmetry in terms of position,” he explains. “In osteopathy, symmetry is more about the movement itself. We don't believe that symmetry exists. Actually, if you draw a line through the face, nobody's symmetrical.”
This principle is what Fabrice credits for helping him heal and contribute to the recovery of his most loyal clients. When treating a player, he finds that the ultimate cause of an issue is often related to a completely different area of the body from the proximal site of the pain.
“[Players] come in with knee pain and tendonitis, but the knee is just a consequence, just caught in the middle between a sprained ankle or a pelvis that's not functioning right,” he says. “So I barely even touch the knee. I realign the ankle, the back and the pelvis, and suddenly the knee moves by itself. We are less focused on the site of pain. We're really looking at the person in his globality.”
But Fabrice uses more than his hands and his intuition to heal his patients. He also employs inflatable bubbles from a French company called Waff, as tools to both detect and address his clients’ physical problems.
“A lot of what [the Waff] does is more about the inner sensation and neuromuscular control than strength,” he says. “Two Waff Minis allow the athlete to challenge his mobility and stability, and also to play with his ankle angle in order to achieve perfect form. It then works as an assessment tool as well revealing the restriction of mobility of the ankle or calves or hip flexors.”
Fabrice started using Waff bubbles eight years ago when Dominic Soares, the company’s founder, came into Fabrice’s Beverly Hills office to demo his products.
Fabrice's NBA Clients in January
“I always have a few French crazy inventors that wants to meet with me because of what I do or the people I work with,” Fabrice says. “I get [Dominic] inflating a pool floaty or breast implant in my office. I’m, like, ‘Who is that crazy moron who is wasting my time?’
“Then I stepped on [the Waff] and felt the exact sensation of proprioceptive challenge that I was looking to recreate from another tool from France. So right away I told him, ‘Can you come to my house tonight and bring a bottle of wine?’ And we have been [business] partners since then.”
From that point on, Fabrice became both a customer of and an investor in Waff. In November 2017, the Waff Mini Elite—that “pool floaty” Fabrice first saw—went viral when LeBron James was spotted warming up on the court with them as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But ask any of Fabrice’s clients, and they’ll say they’ve long been familiar with Waff from treatments at his office.
Fabrice supervises Eric Gordon while the Houston Rockets guard performs an exercise on Waff bubbles. (Courtesy of Fabrice Gautier)
So what exactly is it about Fabrice’s technique that keeps these star athletes coming back for more? For starters, his treatments begin with an assessment that seems more like the work of a Jedi master than a physical therapist. His initial evaluation consists of placing his hands over the patient’s shoulders and head in what he calls “tissular attraction”—one of the various tests he uses to identify a particular body’s areas of need before the actual treatment begins.
“You feel it,” Fabrice says. “The body tells you.”
But what helps Fabrice maintain the trust of his clients are the results and the commitment. More often than not, players see both immediate and long-term improvement after treatments. And if they ever need his help in a hurry, they can count on him to be there.
That was the case in 2013, when Fabrice got a call from Joakim.
“I have the playoffs in Brooklyn. It's in front of all my family. I cannot put my foot on the floor,” Joakim told him. “What can you do?”
Without thinking twice, Fabrice was on his way to New York to help ease Joakim’s plantar fasciitis. After not being able to walk just two days before Game 1, he not only played, but also participated in all 12 of the Chicago Bulls’ postseason games that year—and put up double-doubles in half of them—because of the treatment he received from Fabrice.
Though the Miami Heat would win the championship that year, Fabrice gave Joakim something greater than a trophy: the ability to play while the youth coach who got him into basketball was in the crowd.
“That was a key moment for him. It was like two years later his coach died,” Fabrice says. “He was, like, ‘You have no idea. You allowed me to play in front of him, so he could see what I became.’”
Though he is familiar with most injuries he sees, Fabrice still learns from every patient he treats from world-class athletes to 70-year-olds with arthritis. As for his hoops dream, it is still very much alive and well. But instead of Showtime’s Magic, Fabrice now creates his own.
From a young boy beaming at the sight of his father assembling a hoop in their Parisian backyard to celebrating the 2014 NBA championship with Tony in the Spurs’ locker room with Dom Perignon, Fabrice’s journey has always brought him back to the game.
“[Basketball] came back to me” he says. “It came back to me, and that's why I say that orange ball made me meet so many good people and live so many crazy adventures. That made me, me.”