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MLB, NBA team optometrist recalls Michael Jordan era, favorite stories


R Tracy Williams, OD, FAAO, reflects on his favorite stories working as a team optometrist for the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox in the last 20 years.

In terms of sports doctoring, R Tracy Williams, OD, FAAO has seen it all. From being called from the stands to inspect players' injuries during games to working with some of the country's most prolific professional athletes, Williams details his favorite experiences as a team optometrist for the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox. To see more on his day-to-day tasks as team doctor, watch his other interview with Optometry Times here.

Video transcript

Editor's note - This transcript has been edited for clarity.

R Tracy Williams, OD, FAAO:

Well, you know what, if you think about, "oh my gosh, he was with the Bulls during the Jordan years, what was that like?" Oh my gosh, I guess it was like being with the Beatles or something. I mean, it was just so great. They were just such great players, I would do certain sports vision training types of things, and I worked with 2 great folks. 1 was Dr. David Orth, he's a retinal specialist, and the other one was David Dashefsky, who was a wonderful administrator for vision practices and whatnot. We would do different sports vision tests. Just to share this 1, is we would project 7 random numbers on a board. It was probably about 12 feet away and the person had a quarter of a second to look at it, and then tell us, in order, what those 7 were. I think most of the players could do it after two exposures, or three for sure. But the ones that could get it the first time where they first of all locked into where they were going to look and they were focused, and got all of them. Who do you think was one on the bulls that got every 1 of them the first time?

Jordana Joy:
The first thing I think of is Jordan.

Yeah. I think that there are dynamic and and static skills. Of course, in optometry, we've long known vision therapy and the different components of sight.

But absolutely, I could write a book about funny types of things too that happen. Like having a player that is wearing a very strong lens and right before the game, they come in to see you and say, "Hey, do you have a backup pair of those contacts?" and we usually did in the trainer's trunk or whatever, but usually you would think the player would actually have that. But then the player comes in and sees you and is expecting you to give them a pair of contacts, and they're like a high myope, and you find out that they threw the contacts into the garbage can and you have to get a flashlight, and you have to have find [them.]

So crazy things happen. Of course, the umpires, I've worked with umpires. One time, Frank Thomas, who was a great baseball player for the White Sox, and he unfortunately was having a bad day and was called out on strikes. What had happened was he actually came into the clubhouse. I was actually sitting there, and he said, "Hey, Tracy, do you have one of your professional cards?" And I said, "Oh, yeah, sure." I found out that he took it and gave it to the umpire. So there's different things that happen to you that are funny, and working with players.

One time, Robin Ventura, who was a fantastic baseball player, such a great player, and he got the equivalent of the Heisman for baseball, and just 1 of my favorite White Sox players. He had a slump when he first came up, and he was such a great player, but then the slump went away. But he had a second slump, and he said, "Hey, could I possibly meet you because I want to just make sure my eyes are okay and I don't want to make a big deal about this," and I said, "Sure." He had heard that at my house, I had a little eye exam [equipment] because I was doing my family and charity sometimes there. He said, "Hey, could I possibly meet you there?" And I said, "Sure." My son, who was in fifth grade, of course heard that at the time, and he said he was going to be sick the next day, and I said, "No, you just leave a baseball on your bed, and I'll have him come into your bedroom and sign it." So, of course Robin's eyes were fine, but I walked him back into Robbie's bedroom, and sure enough, he had a Farrah Fawcett poster on his wall, kind of a famous one. Robin saw that and he grabbed the baseball and he said, "Sorry I missed you, Rob. Nice bedroom."

I would have players come to the house and you just you have a personal relationship because I think of the patient education and the service. You know, you're available to do things and they know that you care. So you got to go the extra mile and you have to be on call, so I would get calls when they were in different stadiums. It's been a blessing but getting back to my work as a low vision specialist by getting those types of celebrities to help you at galas and at golf events and being very charitable. I think that's the reason why I got to be a team doctor is as long as I behaved and I'm hopefully was a good servant to children and adults with vision loss.

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