Frank Furtado, the longtime NBA trainer who spent more than three decades with the Seattle Sonics, died Saturday at the age of 90.
Furtado’s death was confirmed by his daughter Cherie Furtado.
“He was so giving and loving and hardworking,” Furtado’s grandson Robbie said. “Everybody seemed to know him and everyone always had something good to say about him. He worked so hard to make sure everyone had what they needed. And that’s what he loved.
“When I think of him, he was a great storyteller. … He loved sailing. He loved boats. He loved gardening. He loved sharing stories with people. He would talk to you for three hours if you let him.”
Furtado is survived by his wife Sarah; children Michelle, Cherie, Frank III; grandchildren Robbie, Jessica and Lexie; and great grandson Matias.
Former Sonics president and general manager Wally Walker, who played five years (1977-82) with the team, described Furtado as “probably the most unheralded and essential member of the franchise” during a 35-year tenure that spanned from 1974 to 2008.
“How many coaches, general managers and players came and went during his time,” Walker said. “And everyone loved and respected him. It was just who he was. Then you combine the fact that Sarah was there all those years, too. Those two were integral to the Sonics success as anybody.”
It’s impossible to tell Frank Furtado’s story and not include Sarah, his wife of 68 years.
“Even to the last day, he could not stop talking about how much he loved her,” Robbie Furtado said.
Frank and Sarah met and fell in love in his hometown of Ripon, Calif., about 80 miles east of San Francisco. After Frank served in the Korean War as a U.S. Naval medic, they married and moved to Seattle where he attended Seattle Pacific College, which later became Seattle Pacific University.
“He always said, the best decision he ever made was marrying her,” Cherie Furtado said.
Following graduation from SPU in 1960, Furtado coached football and basketball at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. They returned to SPU in 1964 when he started the wrestling program.
Ten years later, NBA great and Sonics coach Bill Russell asked Furtado if he would be the team’s trainer. Sarah joined the Sonics four years earlier in 1970 as an executive assistant and spent 26 years with the franchise.
“He loved teaching and he loved being a coach, but the wrestling program was closing,” Cherie Furtado said. “I remember him saying, I’m sure I’ll probably never get another offer to work in the NBA, but I can always go back to teaching. It was not an easy decision because he was really passionate about being a coach and a teacher.
“Being a trainer in ’74 is not like it is today. … I remember he had to stop by the corner grocery store every day to buy ice because there were no ice machines where they practiced at that time.”
Furtado, who won two NBA trainer of the year awards, retired in 2000 and remained with the Sonics as an assistant trainer until the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008.
On Feb. 23, 2001, the Sonics named their practice facility “The Furtado Center” in honor of Frank and Sarah.
“Frank was that rock that was around basically from the beginning until the end,” said Hall of Famer Jack Sikma, who played nine years (1977-86) with the Sonics. “He’s going to be missed. He lived life the right way.”
Tributes and condolences poured in from the Seattle sports community after the news of Furtado’s death.
Former Sonics coach George Karl tweeted: “Frank Furtado and his wife Sarah were an important part of the Sonics for almost 35 years. He introduced training to the sport in a way few had before and he was a great person.”
Former NBA player Brent Barry, who spent five years (1998-04) with the Sonics, tweeted: “Frank cared and as a member of the Sonics that mattered to us all. Having his respect, and trust me it had to be earned, meant so much more to me than any treatment/early morning tape up. Thank you.”
Former Sonics standout and coach Nate McMillan called Furtado “Doc” while former Sonics player Dale Ellis affectionately referred to Furtado as “The Godfather.”
“He’s just like an old Italian godfather,” Ellis said in a 2001 SPU interview. “He commanded respect, and you know, you don’t want the healer mad at you. In this game, people come and go, but Frank touched a lot of people’s lives. I’ll never forget him.”
But for Sonics great Gary Payton, Furtado will always be “Big Daddy.”
“He was really my guy,” Payton said. “He really took care of me. If it wasn’t for him, I would have missed a lot of games. He was respected by all of us. He demanded respect. He made us do the things we had to do. We had to get in for treatments. He was the one always figuring out what kind of treatment we need.”
During his 13-year Sonics tenure, Payton suffered through an assortment of injuries, including a chronic back ailment. However, he started 993 of 999 games in Seattle.
“One time when my back was really bad, Frank went and found a guy in Wyoming and got a (hyperbaric) chamber where he had me sit in there,” Payton said. “At the time, things like that were a little crazy. But if Big Daddy said do it, you did it. … He was the one he found that chair that I used to sit in all the time.”
Payton had more stories of his longtime trainer.
“This one time, I got my ankle caught up in the revolving thing on the sideline at the end of a game in Minnesota,” Payton continued. “They thought I was going to be out for months with a high-ankle sprain. … Big Daddy said hey man what do you want to do? We can work all night if you want?
“As soon as we got off the plane, we went straight to the facility and worked to three to five in the morning. We had to play Michael Jordan and them in two days and he got my ankle to a point where he got the swelling down. He taped it up and he said, ‘Let’s go.’”
An emotional Payton added: “He was my hero. He’s the one that kept me right and kept me on the court. Without Big Daddy, I don’t play those games. This one really hurts. You know nobody lives forever, but I never saw this day coming.”