Other people may think this is a big deal, but Fineske just smiles and shrugs.
“People find out and think this is a glamorous job or that I make a lot of money. Not really,” he said. “Besides, being called ‘Fingers’ is better than being called ‘Hey, fat old man!’”
Fineske travels everywhere with the team and works long hours. It’s not unusual for him to have an athlete on the table at 3 a.m.
“If you play a game in Portland and someone’s hurtin’ when they get on the plane, and they’re playin’ the next night in another city, you gotta take care of ‘em when they ask,” he said. “They’ve been so nice to me, and I look after them. I’m really concerned about them.”
He attributes part of his 13 years with the team to his tableside manner… that and his hearing loss from the Vietnam War.
“I’m usually pretty quiet around them. I think they know I don’t talk about their business. Sometimes I don’t even hear, which is fine ̓cause I don’t wanna know,” he added.
And sometimes he doesn’t even know a player’s name. He knows them only when they have their jerseys on. But he learns, and the tattoos some players have act as brands for identification. He said he really doesn’t like sports that much, but laughs when he says he’s spent enough time on the sidelines to hear plenty of colorful language from Mark Cuban.
Tall, broad shouldered, and built like a linebacker, Fineske shakes your hand with a strong grip, but has soft hands conditioned by constant lotion applications. His quiet, deprecatory manner contrasts with his physical stature.
He is native of Toledo, Ohio and a graduate of Bowling Green State University with a degree in health and physical education. He also pursued bodybuilding for many years, even though it cost him torn pectoral muscles, a torn rotator cuff and ripped off triceps. All have since healed. Once he returned from Vietnam and found himself in Dallas, he became a chemist with a company near Love Field that overhauled jet engines. Although he knew little about chemistry going in, he learned fast and made sure the chemical solutions used for cleaning the metal parts were mixed correctly. “I was working with all the dangerous stuff like hydrochloric acid – even burned a hole in my arm at one point,” he said. “I was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of waste disposal.”
He was laid off in 1992 after 18 years with the company. It was not a good time to be losing a job. He had one son at Baylor University and two at First Baptist Academy (FBA). His wife, Dolores, has been the secretary at the school for many years.
It was one of the FBA players who suggested he go to massage school. He remembers sitting in class the first week and thinking, “‘Man, this is great! No… wait… this is stupid. I don’t have a job!’” He continued, “But I was like a kid in a candy shop. I just thought it was all so interesting, but I really lacked self-confidence.”
He earned his license and got a part time gig with the Cooper Clinic. He went from part time to full time to overtime. From there, he moved to the Tom Landry Center, was the massage therapist for the World Cup Soccer referees, on staff with the Dallas Burn, and then got connected to the Mavericks when he got a call to work on “some guy named Don Nelson,” then-owner of the Mavericks.
But “Fingers” Fineske works with us regular folks, too. Steven Valenzuela, himself a massage therapist (MT), was attacked last year while on a mission trip and suffered severe head and neck trauma. Today he is pain-free and completely mobile.
“Gary is giving, compassionate, loyal, amazing,” he said. “He has helped immensely to restore my body so it would work mechanically. I really don’t know what I would have done without him.” Another client, Ben Goldfarb, has been seeing Fineske for more than 15 years and said that, despite his size, Gary is “a very gentle guy and puts everything into his work 110 percent.”
Fineske has also had high-profile clients like Mort Meyerson, who liked him so much that he took him on an anniversary cruise to be the MT for a few hundred friends and family they had brought along. Despite rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, Fineske says he charges about the same for everyone – NBA stars and carpool moms alike. He also makes house and office calls for only a few dollars extra.
“I think everyone should have a massage once a month because you’re in the game of Life. Ever get a headache? How are you gonna relieve stress? The key to the whole thing for me is helping people,” he said. “I like making people feel better.”
For more information about Fineske, find him at GaryFineske.com.