Saturday, December 22, 2012

The First Game

Hawks guard Jeff Teague barrels into Wizards center Earl Barron
Wizards fans celebrate as Earl Barron ties the game on a short jumper

Not too long ago, I had been looking for a part time job on craigslist, and encountered what appeared to be the ultimate NBA fan's gig of fan photographer at Wizards home games. I immediately contacted the post, and was called back to photograph for the next night's game against the Lakers, which I declined, because I hadn't been feeling very well. So, I offered to do the game against the Atlanta Hawks on the following Tuesday. The weekend went by, and Tuesday finally arrived. Having just left my day job at around 4pm, I arrived at the Verizon Center in D.C. an hour and a half before game time. I must say, the first time going through the administrative entrance in an NBA arena was an unforgettable experience. I grew up a huge fan of the New York Knicks. In fact, I was obsessed. I used to sometimes fantasize about living in an NBA arena, in particular Madison Square Garden. I knew all the players by name, face, and by nationality. I knew what towns they were from, what schools they went to, and what numbers they wore. I was a solid player back in the day too, and I still am, but I was really more of a fan than anything. I rode emotional roller coasters following the Knicks. Growing up, I would go to school carrying the last night's game on my shoulders, as though it was me who had just played. Nothing made me happier than being inside Madison Square Garden, and feeling the energy. When I went to games, I would always get there at least an hour early to watch players shoot around. Occasionally, I would hunt for autographs, but that wasn't what drove my interest in being at the arena so early. It was really more the ambiance. Being in the arena early, and feeling the vibes was somehow deeply penetrating. I would watch my favorite players like Patrick Ewing, Latrell Sprewell, and Allan Houston take shots before the game. I could feel their focus, their drive. I would glance over at Spike Lee, who was always decked out in orange and blue, and catch a rush of enthusiasm for the game that was unrivaled from just seeing it on TV. So, when I got my camera, and set out around the Verizon Center, my first stop was the court-side seats. I hadn't been this close to the floor at an NBA game since I was a kid. Once again, I felt a rush of energy and focus that I hadn't felt in any other environment, even if it was the 3-20 Wizards. I watched Wizards guards Martell Webster and Bradley Beal shoot around, as assistant coach Sam Cassell was horsing around on the sidelines. I remembered watching Sam since I was a young kid, in particular during the 1994 NBA finals, when he played for the Rockets, who downed the Knicks in the 7 game championship series.  I suddenly felt young again, able to point out in my head all the players, all the coaches, and commentators. It reminded me of those moments growing up going to the Garden, and wanting to stand by the court until the game started, only to be sent back to the upper deck by security 5 minutes before the tip. And here I was, finally, after all these years, closer to the action than I'd ever been. My goal for the night was to take about 150 photos of fans. I came up just short of this goal, but was told later that one of my photos sold online for quite a bit of money, which gave me a great deal of satisfaction. I even had time to watch the last couple minutes of the surprisingly close game.  The Wizards wound up losing in overtime 100-95, despite Jordan Crawford's double-double of 27 points and 11 assists. Lou Williams led Atlanta in scoring with 24 points off the bench, while Josh Smith chipped in 17 points and 13 rebounds.  Former Wizard Deshawn Stevenson hit a crucial go-ahead three with just over 2 minutes left in overtime, putting the Hawks up for good.