The former general manager of the Magic can look back now with more whimsy than fear, recalling the moment when his life changed forever.
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A short time later, Gabriel would share a bond with the actor. He would be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in December 2010.
And thus began Gabe's battle with the incurable degenerative neurologic disease, and we're happy to report that he has fought it to a draw with medicine, physical therapy and exercise.
He said his last checkup, monitoring his motor functions, was his best.
This is the first time that Gabriel has publicly disclosed he has Parkinson's. Only his family, closest friends and the New York Knicks knew of his condition.
"The whole thing has been a very teachable moment and continues to be," said Gabriel, director of scouting for the Knicks. "Initially, I wanted to take care of myself, emotionally and physically, and get my feet on the ground.
"And also I wanted to find out if I could continue to be capable of doing my job and performing it well. I found out that I could. I feel good about things."
Gabriel was on the phone en route to doing his job, traveling from his Winter Park home Friday to Miami for the Knicks' playoffs series against the Heat.
He said he wants to thank the Knicks for their "tremendous" support from "top to bottom."
He asked that the Knicks "treat me the same" and continue his usual workload.
Named the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2000 for his masterful rebuilding of the Magic, Gabriel resigned four years later, one of the casualties of the ill-fated Grant Hill era. It remains a mystery why Gabe never got another shot.
After 30 years in the league in various roles, he now simply says, "It feels great to work, period."
Gabriel has been under the care of Dr. Irene Malaty of the Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration at the University of Florida/Shands Hospital in Gainesville.
Malaty said that the disease progresses slowly with age and can be countered with heightened treatment.
"John is doing fantastic," she said.
If you know Gabe, he's big-brother friendly, classy and intensely private. He keeps information so close to his vest that I always thought he missed his calling when he was Magic GM. He should have worked for the CIA.
Extracting anything from him as a reporter is often futile and frustrating. Gabe deftly handled my cut-to-the-chase style for years by leaving me with more to chase, annoyingly charming throughout our conversations.