Thanks to this year’s $160 investment as a partial Utah Jazz season ticket holder, I have caught more than my share of basketball games this season. I’ve also noticed a few things. For one, Deron Williams is one of the few NBA pros who actually puts his hand over his heart during the singing of the National Anthem (so do Dee Brown and Ronnie Brewer—see below).
Another thing I’ve noticed is that 95% of the entertainment between quarters and during time-outs consists of finding different ways to throw stuff into the audience. There’s the mini-ball toss, the even smaller ball toss, the T-shirt cannon, and the little Taco Bell parachutes that drop other T-shirts into the crowd. I haven’t come close to catching one of these items.
But three or four games into the season, I also started to notice that there was always one photographer that was highlighted at the end of a game on the jumbotron. Some guest that got to sit on the baseline and take shots with all of the regular press folks. As a hack photographer myself, I asked my inside man about the deal.
“Hey Jonah*, what do you have to do to be the guest photographer?” I asked him.
“Go find yourself an SLR with a telephoto lens, and I’ll get you down there,” he replied.
Let it be publicly stated that I was already in considerable debt to Jonah, between the ticket upgrades he’d scored me to several Jazz games this season, the Who concert in November, and the outright free tickets he gave me to the Chili Peppers concert last summer (which I also counted as a home teaching visit since I took one of my home teachees).
But I wasn’t about to refuse this opportunity to run up my tab, and so on the second-to-last game of the year, at the end of the first quarter, I found myself being escorted out onto the court, where I was assigned a designated slot on the baseline.
Here is what my view looked like for the next twelve minutes of gametime.
Up until that point, I’d never sat closer than the thirteenth row at a Jazz game, but now I found myself sitting in front of the Bougeoise of the Salt Lake Valley. As you can see, I was in an ideal position to throw peanuts at Matt Harpring.
I’d come prepared with my friend Wes’s digital SLR, complete with interchangeable telephoto lens, which allowed me to take about 300+ photos over the course of the game. I figure I shot at a rate of about one good shot for every twenty attempts, or roughly Shaquille O'Neal's free throw shooting percentage. Here are a few of the better ones…
Carlos Boozer on a fast break…
Paul Milsap going up over a seven-foot version of Napoleon Dynamite…
Deron Williams standing around…
And Derek Fisher getting ready to drive around a guy with extraordinarily skinny legs.
After a few minutes of the second quarter had passed, the guy at my left spoke to me.
“That working ok for you?” he said, indicating my camera.
He was the photographer for the Salt Lake Tribune.
“Yeah,” I said, then muttered something self-consciously about being a hack photographer. I could have fit about four of my cameras inside his telephoto lens. For a moment I felt guilty for getting to sit there next to a guy that actually knew something about photography. I'd played around with it in my time, but I was more of a general artistic guy than a diehard photojockey.
As the quarter went on, I began to realize that sports photography is a tricky business. There’s a lot of timing involved, as well as dumb luck. It helps if you have a camera that can take a dozen shots a second, but I know I’m not ready for a $10,000 investment like that yet.
Still, I was able to get an oddly well-composed photo of Andrei Kirilenko going after a loose ball…
...and maybe my best shot all night, of Boozer going up over the Napoleon Dynamite guy.
But I missed Boozer’s best highlight of the night, thanks to the aforementioned timing and dumb luck. In the middle of a substantial Jazz run that put them up fifteen points or so (I really didn’t know what was going on—I was just busy following the ball around with my camera the whole time), Dee Brown broke free on a fast break, covered tightly by Portland point guard Dan Dickau. As Dickau tried to defend, Brown swung a beautiful behind the back pass to Boozer, who followed with an ESPN-worthy dunk.
The whole thing happened right in front of me.
And I didn’t get jack.
No, I wasn’t busy switching lenses. No, I wasn’t busy checking out the Jazz Dancers. And no, I wasn’t overcome by the fan inside who was more interested in watching the game rather than taking the opportunity to document it.
No, Dan Dickau got in my way.
Observe: Dee Brown making his behind-the-back pass, and Dickau looking my direction with an “I’m going to screw up this kid’s shot” look on his face…
As you can see from this bird’s-eye view shot (courtesy of my friend Jared), Mr. Momentum stopped right in front of me…
And this is the shot I got as Boozer went in for his dunk…
Big Dan shifted slightly, allowing me to get a fuzzy shot of Boozer as he finishes the jam (and oddly looks as if he’s about to be caught by the enormous hand of the cameraman next to me). I could have cropped it, but the action bit is out of focus since my camera chose Dickau's bum as the focal point.
I also got this post-dunk shot, which has some good drama, in kind of an “after Vader delivered the big line to Luke in Empire” sense. Too little, too late.
Even shooting as much as I could, I still had about 85 shots left when halftime arrived, so I caught a nice picture of the refs getting escorted off the court by security. It looks like they’re being taken into the Witness Protection Program or something.
Since Jonah wasn’t able to get me the “official” spot as the guest photographer, I had to make tracks at halftime, but my good friend did manage to get me some upgraded tickets in the lower bowl for the second half.
So I got another nice shot of a Milsap drive…
A nice shot of Deron Williams guarding some random guard from Portland…
A killer breakaway dunk from Deron…
And a beauty shot of Memo taking it in the nuts courtesy of Raef LaFrenz.
Yeah, fine. I got this one, too...
After the game Jared and I got to enjoy the "sweet taste of victory", which came in the form of free Mrs. Cavanaugh's chocolates handed out by the aforementioned Jazz Dancers. As I walked out into the night, satisfied with a solid Jazz win and some creative by-product, I was happy to have some legitimate writing material again. It's been a while.
Was it worth it?