Kings trainer speaks on ordeal

SACRAMENTO -- It's funny now.

The raspy voice, the headset he wears when the voice isn't working, the jokes about how Daniel Shapiro, the Kings' strength and conditioning coach, looks a whole lot more like a Justin Timberlake look-a-like.

It wasn't funny then.

Shapiro laughs now because he's in the clear. Diagnosed in June 2006 with throat cancer, he made it through the surgery to remove an inch-long tumor from his vocal cords and a second one to bring his voice back. He kept working throughout the ordeal, spending nearly four weeks speechless while he jotted instructions to players on an eraser board or typed out his rigorous demands.

He even endured the loving sarcasm of the very players he helps, with "Dan" or "Danny" making way for the endless references to "JT."

"When I look back to what I went through, I'm so happy where I am now," said Shapiro, 30. "It gives you a full head of steam to go into the season thinking, 'You know what, I did it last year with obstacles. I got this now.' "

It certainly appears that way.

The summer of 2007 was a good one for the man behind the Kings' muscles. Brad Miller was reformed, dropping 25 pounds under Shapiro's direction and maintaining strength and agility along the way. Kevin Martin added bulk, Justin Williams added bulk and kept his bounce, and numerous other players hit their personal goals in time for not only training camp, but today's exhibition game against Shapiro's old Seattle team.

But the summer of 2006 is still with him, and not just because of the recent scare. Shapiro, who is entering his third season with the Kings, feared a relapse last month, when tests revealed a white spot the UC Davis Medical Center doctors thought might have been another tumor. It wasn't, thankfully, but the precautionary measures returned. Don't strain your voice, unless you want to lose it. Use the "ChatterVox" headset as much as possible. And so it continues.

The problem relates to his most-unique vocal cords. For as long as the Seattle native can remember, his voice has been scratchy, projecting a Marlon Brando tone that set him apart. But what he once considered a trait of distinction eventually became a health hazard, as the Grade 1 type of cancer that formed on his larynx, Shapiro said, was particular to swollen vocal cords the likes of which Shapiro always had.

His original fears were only natural. Cancer, he assumed, meant the chance of fatal danger, but MRIs and CAT scans soon revealed the tumor was localized. Then, of course, came the looming question of whether he would ever return to his dream job again.

With one season behind him in Sacramento, Shapiro -- who replaced longtime strength coach and local icon Al Biancani -- entered last summer known as the youthful upstart with a rigorous regimen. But after working through his numerous biopsies and June surgery, Kings players say he earned a whole new level of respect.

Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof flew Shapiro's mother, Raquel Shapiro, and his brother, Elan, to Sacramento to be with him. The tumor was successfully removed at UC Davis Medical Center, and Shapiro attempted to work just days later. Yet a reaction to his medicines returned him to bed for a week.

For nearly four weeks after the operation, he had no voice, just pain when he tried to speak and the danger of doing more damage. There was barely a whisper until January, when reconstructive surgery was successful and the "ChatterVox" only became necessary in louder environments.

"Here I was going into my third season when he was going through all that, and I was in there working out," Kings shooting guard Kevin Martin said. "And he was still making sure I got everything done to help make me a better player -- even though he was going through a life-threatening thing. That just made me want to work harder for him, to listen to everything he was teaching me, because he really cared."

Shapiro was nearly as determined to transform Miller's body this summer as the center himself was, and the pair worked two-a-days through August in Sacramento, near Miller's home in Kendallville, Ind.

As for the question of why, Shapiro said he never bothered to ask.

"I handled it," he said. "I had no other choice. There was nothing else I wanted to do more than working, coaching, being around the guys on this team. I never thought, 'What if I don't get my voice back?' I just knew."