The NBA provides some of the best imagery in sports, but the final product is oftentimes a result of many, many missed opportunities.
Hauling my way up the stairs to my seat in section 100 prior to Game 3 of the NBA Finals, I ran in to long-time friend of the program—and someone I’d consider a friend behind the scenes of these interwebs—Martin Rickman. Martin was in town, like many others, to cover the Finals, and just as we were for the 2016 edition, we were seated next to one another in the third row, he with DIME Magazine, me with WFNY. Martin had been waiting for a fist bump, but he had to hold it out there for a few seconds so I could set down all of my belongings: Macbook, requisite charging cables, my notepad and pen, and my camera.
“I’m a one-man band, my friend,” I told him as I situated my instruments for that night’s festivities. We chatted for a few minutes, catching up on the last few months, discussed his recent promotion, how cool it was to be back in those exact seats a year later, and what the hopes were for the coming days. We adjourned from our formal discussion, stood for the National Anthem, and then went about our various paths for the night. As editor, Martin’s job for the week rested mostly in coordination of the next 24 hours of coverage. As I had mentioned in my analogy above, mine would consist of coverage throughout the game, finding an angle for that night’s recap, and taking pictures throughout the evening.
Many of you may have noticed the imagery we’ve been using for Cavs pieces over the recent months, steering away from wire photos, adding even more “WFNY” to the pages. Some of you may have even noticed my Instagram bio which lists “Wannabe photographer” as an occupation. What you will not have noticed is that of the four or five images I upload during and after a given game, there are roughly 300-400 others that never see the light of day. Wannabe, indeed.
I’ve always been intrigued by angles and colors and the way things appear in a given moment, be they sunsets or skyscrapers. They take a certain kind of eye, and if not captured, will be gone shortly thereafter. But the thing about sports photography—unlike those buildings and what not, these guys are moving so quickly that even shutter speeds near 500 frames per second make it tough to chronicle. Tristan Thompson only appears to be plodding at times because we compare him to the explosiveness of LeBron James or the path-shifting dribbling of Kyrie Irving. You may think you have the perfect shot, but once you engage the shutter and then look at what you’ve obtained, more often than not it leads to a deep sigh and another attempt later in the game.
Basketball as a sport, in my opinion, provides some of the best imagery in athletics. There were some amazing shots taken during the Olympics, and I’m always fascinated by those who can grab shots of the hockey puck passing over the line or the soccer ball grazing a goalkeepers fingertips before sailing into the back of the net. Think about those moments for a second: There may be just a handful of opportunities in given match where these shots are possible, much like a diving catch by a shortstop, or a picture of Odell Beckham Jr. using three fingers to catch a touchdown. But in basketball, you get the combination of speed and musculature and athleticism and those wow moments like, say, a huge chasedown block or game-winning three-pointer in Game 7 of an NBA Finals.
Take, for instance, this shot from Game 4. First quarter. Kyrie Irving is about to have on of the best 12 minutes of play in Finals history. Golden Sate’s Klay Thompson (6-7) could not have played better defense on Irving (6-3). Not only did Irving get the shot off, but he made it as well.
Over the years, I’ve befriended David Liam Kyle, the team’s photographer for 20-plus seasons whose byline you see at the bottom of every home game shot from NBAE/Getty. When David was playing basketball overseas (he was drafted by the Red Auerbach Celtics out of Cleveland State) he picked up a camera to help pass the time while living in a foreign land. Today, he shoots his pictures with a camera about four times the size of mine, but uses corner-mounted strobes which means he has to wait several seconds before he can shoot again.
Despite these headwinds (and the constant risk of a 250-pound man running full speed into you on the baseline) he’s able to capture jaw-dropping moments throughout games—like Kyrie levitating past Steph Curry, for instance…
David’s images are pristine. Brad Mangin’s work for Sports Illustrated is another who comes to mine, his Instagram feed comprised entirely of shots taken with his iPhone. It’s the work of these guys who have inspired me over the years to be super picky about what I share with the rest of the world. But for all of the dunks and blocks and crossover dribbles I’ve managed to capture over the years, there are so many that were just a split second too late, were obstructed by someone or something, or simply didn’t have the right focus in place. You know how they call baseball a game of failure? Extrapolate that many times over and you have photography.
Oh, and one tip I’ve gleaned over the years: Never attempt to compliment a photographer with “you must have a nice camera.” It’s akin to saying Jimi Hendrix must have had a nice guitar.
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “‘The Jordan Rules’ Was the Mother of All Woj Bombs” by Bryan Curtis (The Ringer)1
- “I’ve Seen That: The Shot of Kevin Durant’s Life Was a Lifetime in the Making” by Adam Kilgore (Washington Post)2
- “Setting the record straight on CTE” by Eric Adelson (Yahoo! Sports)
- “Bob Stoops showed early that he’d be head coach for years” by Andy Staples (Sports Illustrated)
This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:
- “Inside the chaotic battle to be the top reply to a Trump tweet” by Charlie Warzel (Buzzfeed)
- “Howard Schultz has something left to prove” by Beth Kowitt (Fortune)
- “How Lego Clicked: The super brand that reinvented itself” by Johnny Davis (The Guardian)
- “The Shopping Mall time Machine” by Walter Kirn (Harper’s)3
This Week in Announcements:
- Like what you see? You can support WFNY in any way you feel comfortable. Head to our Patreon page to check it out.
- Subscribe to our Newsletter and get the occasional blast of original content or items you may have missed during certain stretches of time.
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- Back when news could be broken in a book. [↩]
- Actual sportswriting on deadline. Probably the best recap of Game 3 I’ve read to date. [↩]
- I’m always fascinated by stories on generation gap, evolution, and adaptation. Given the downfall of malls and retail in general over recent years, it’s a fantastic overlay for the entire narrative. [↩]