NBA London Live 2013

January 22, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) talks to the media during team practice ahead of the NBA London Live 20132013 Team practice NBA London Live Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks The O2 Arena Jan 16th
Knicks superstar Melo Anthony hounded by the media in the same arena where he won gold with Team USA during the Summer Olympics

With the NBA season in full swing, the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons travelled to London last week for the third regular-season game ever to be played in Europe.  And being such a sucker for getting up close with sporting megastars, I took myself along to make a fuss of it all.

The hype surrounding the fixture had reached feverous levels and I heard regular seats for the sellout event were going for as much as £800.  

Not that anyone should have expected the game to be overly competitive - the Knicks are running strong with a great squad whereas the Pistons are languishing in their division - but then clearly London was more interested in the glamour and the spectacle than any real sporting leverage.

Detroit Pistons centre Andre Drummond (1) talks to the media during team practice ahead of the NBA London Live 2013 game2013 Team practice NBA London Live Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks The O2 Arena Jan 16th
I got low and tight to frame the giant feet of Detroit Pistons centre Andre Drummond whilst he talks to media
 
My first ever interaction with the NBA came the day before the fixture when I went along to cover team practice media opportunity on court at the O2 Arena.  Having covered similar visits by the NFL and Team USA during the Olympic Games I have to say the media handling by our American guests is always exceptional.  They are polite, they are organised, they know what media need and they provide the freedom for you to get on with it.  Go USA.
 
Basically we are all penned in for a few minutes whilst the players come out, before the press hoard are unleashed en masse to hound and pester without restriction.  The players appear calm and composed, if somewhat indifferent about it all, whilst the media square off against each other to get the first soundbite or interview.  Its a confusing melee of cameras, microphones, dictaphones, flustered presenters and scribbling hacks, but somehow it works.  
 
I do think our own sports - particularly football - could learn something from this, where players appear inaccessible for all outlets except the primary broadcaster.  Although i'm not sure how our precious footballers would cope with more than one question at a time.
Knicks players talking to the media ahead of the NBA London Live 2013 game
Knicks' players Iman Shumpert, Amar'e Stoudemire and Jason Kidd talk to the media during team practice
 
For a photographer in this media swam it is actually quite tricky to find a decent picture.  Loosely framed images include all the cameras and journalists' hands clutching recorders, which is only interesting once or twice.  There was so much interest bearing down on Knicks star Carmelo Anthony that a picture taken behind him tells this story best (see first image at the top).  In doing this we definitely ruin some video pictures looking the opposite way, as you'll see the Guardian's Tom Jenkins and myself doing here, but hey we have a job to get done too!
 
For other players the best you can do is frame tight, cutting out all the distracting objects thrust in front of their faces, and wait for a smile.    You don't want talking mouths - this looks unattractive at 1/500th of a second.  Getting the right picture is trickier than it sounds but fortunately you don't need to send in many of these.  Plus you can borrow the light put out from the video guys too, bringing up the brightness a little.
Knicks players leading youngsters through drills as part of an NBA Cares initiative
Knicks' players Chris Copeland, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni share some time with youngsters during team practice
 
There were some better pictures to had once the players got involved with some youngsters visiting as part of an NBA Cares initiative.  This is a great way for players to engage with the grassroots of the sport and is genuinely impressive to witness, but sadly papers aren't likely to run these images too often.
New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson talking to the press2013 NBA London Live Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks The O2 Arena Jan 17th
Knicks Head Coach Mike Woodson talking to media a few minutes before tipoff
 
And so on to Game day, and no sooner had I set up my shop in the media room, the call came in for press conferences in the interview lounge.  This is where both teams' head coaches come out and tolerate the same dull questions from UK press (things like "how do you like London?", "will you be moving your team here please?" and "have you had fish and chips?" are all genuine examples), whilst fielding legit sporting questions from the travelling band of American journalists.  It is as if UK media just wants to be flattered on how good London is and have totally forgotten there's a game on.  Its a little embarassing.
 
And for photographs this routine is predictably dull; a lot of coaches have just one expressionless face and won't give you a picture, which is obviously very spiteful.  This one of Mike Woodson is as good as it got, honestly.
New York Knicks players in the huddle ahead of tipoff2013 NBA London Live Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks The O2 Arena Jan 17th
A single spotlight catches New York Knicks players in the huddle on court ahead of tipoff
 
Close to tipoff I took my allocated spot behind the baseline and immediately next to the Pistons bench.  I had a great view down the sideline for coaches and benched players, and could see enough of open court to know i'd get some decent action.
 
The small playing area means there's only room for around 20 photographers in total and you're tucked right in against the seated audience and alarmingly close to the court.  I tried not to be annoyed when a ref stood on my 50mm lens.  Sitting on the hardwood court gets uncomfortable too so there's a fair bit of shuffling going on to stay lively.  My bum went to sleep several times.
Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Knight (7) in action2013 NBA London Live Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks The O2 Arena Jan 17th
Pistons guard Brandon Knight faced down by Knicks guard JR Smith
 
The small playing area means there's only room for around 20 photographers in total and you're tucked right in against the seated audience.  I tried not to be annoyed when a ref stood on my 50mm lens.  Sitting on the hardwood court gets uncomfortable too so there's a fair bit of shuffling going on to stay lively.
 
Knowing I had zero experience shooting this sport I had warmed up beforehand with a few fixtures with the London Lions, and it was there that I learned how tough it is to shoot basketball.  It is an incredibly quick game, highly unpredictable in its movement, and of course often very vertical resulting in tricky work trying to follow the action.  The small and brightly lit court means backgrounds are often messy and distracting, and especially so in arenas like here at the O2 with all its neon advertising boards.  With lots of scoring going on there's few player celebrations too, something i'm naturally accustomed to with football.
Basketball action from NBA London Live 2013 game at the O2 Arena in London
Mixing regular game action shots with coach and player portraits and emotional reactions
Rapper Chipmunk in the crowd 2013 NBA London Live Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks The O2 Arena Jan 17th

UK rap star Chipmunk (left) and Wretch 32 enjoying courtside seats and ready to pose for a photo

 
Fortunately the intimate space means there's plenty of other stories to look out for beyond the game action.  Courtside seats are regularly populated with the rich and famous and you simply must get those pictures.  Papers are obsessed with celebrities so its a game in its own right to spot and photograph as many as you can.  There were plenty of footballers at this one, so that kind of knowledge helped.
 
The sport of basketball has its own inimitable style too and things like players shoes are worth seeking out.  I was hoping someone would be wearing some bespoke 'London' booties, but it wasn't to be this time around.
Plenty of players sporting customised footwear 2013 NBA London Live Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks The O2 Arena Jan 17th
Pistons guard Will Bynum sporting his daughter's name embroidered on his shoes
 
In the end the Knicks ran out easy winners on the night 102-87 and their star man Camelo Anthony impressed the crowd with his 26 points.  The NBA continues to show off as a sporting spectacle, and from the fury of interest over here its clear the top table of world basketball wil always be welcome in London.  And I hope I'm there every time.  NBA rules.
 
The rest of my images from a great few days are right here.  You might also be interested to see the game from the perspective of Tom Jenkins for the Guardian, who is a top hero of mine (even though I'm too embarrassed tell him that every time I see him on a job). 
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony (7) salutes after victory2013 NBA London Live Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks The O2 Arena Jan 17th
Knicks star man Melo Anthony salutes the crowd after victory in the NBA London Live 2013 game from the O2 Arena

 


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