Sunday, February 24, 2013

Shu-How

A little over a year ago from tonight, I was at the Verizon Center to get my first look at who I thought was the New York Knicks' savior, Jeremy Shu-How Lin, the Taiwanese-American Harvard grad that swept NYC off its feet for a two week period during the abbreviated 2012 NBA season. 'Linsanity' really took off in New York when Lin, who had been cut by both Golden State and Houston to start the season, dropped 38 on the Lakers in a nationally televised game at The Garden, outscoring the legendary Kobe Bryant. But, 'Linsanity's' defining moment may have come at the Verizon Center on February 8th of last year, when Lin exploded past John Wall for a tenacious slam dunk that left even Wizards fans in awe of this new sensation. But after suffering a torn meniscus on March 24th of last year in a game against the Pistons, Lin missed the rest of the season, including the Knicks' first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat.

The Knicks organization was almost certain to resign Lin, if not for his performance on the court, but for his ability to increase MSG Network ratings, which had jumped 70% since Lin's emergence. New York claimed to be willing to match any offer for Lin, a restricted free agent, "up to $1 billion." The Houston Rockets had originally offered Lin a $28.8 million deal over four years, with the fourth year being the team's option. Knicks' coach Mike Woodson publicly stated that the New York would match that offer, and that Lin would be the starting point guard. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey quickly revised the contract to a three-year deal worth $25 million, with Lin being paid $14.8 million in the final "poison pill" year of the contract. Following the acquisition of point guard Raymond Felton, the Knicks declined to match Houston's offer. New York fans were infuriated, including myself. The Knicks organization claimed that the $43 million they would have to pay for Lin in the third year of his contract, including luxury taxes, was too high of a price, but there was speculation that some players, including Carmelo Anthony, felt insulted that Lin was suddenly stealing the limelight in New York, and would be a more expensive asset than anyone else on the team. It also may have been because Knicks owner James Dolan felt betrayed by Lin, when he out-negotiated New York management by returning to the bargaining table to re-write the original contract the Houston had presented. With the blink of an eye, Lin, the Knicks' most popular player since Patrick Ewing, had left New York for Houston.

The Rockets had also added star guard James Harden, whom they acquired from Oklahoma City in exchange for Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. By pairing Harden and Lin, Houston was hoping it could have one of the more versatile, and unselfish, back-courts in the league. So far this season, the duo have not disappointed. Harden has averaged 26.4 points and 5.6 points per game. Meanwhile Lin, who had a slow start to the year, has averaged 12.7 points to go along 6.2 assists in close to 33 minutes per game.

Tonight, the Rockets made their lone trip to the Verizon Center to take on the Washington Wizards, who were coming off a win against Denver the previous night. It was a busy day inside the arena. Earlier in the day, the Washington Capitals had defeated the New Jersey Devils 5-1. I had worked that game as a fan photographer, as well, so after a trip to a couple of local bars at the conclusion of the hockey game, I returned to the Verizon Center to find an arena that was a still a work in progress, as it prepared for a 7:00 PM tip-off. It was amazing to see that there were already fans filing into the arena, despite it not being fully set-up.

An employee slides part of the basketball floor into place
A Capitals employee helps to prepare the court before the Wizards game
An employee hammers the edge of the basketball floor into place
The corporation assumes its command over the employee
An employee mopping the court prior to the game
An employee helps set up the court-side area before the game
An employee starts to up the seating section behind the basket
An employee operating the forklift
An employee helps to set up the seating section behind the basket
I tried to take a couple of pictures of some Wizards players who had made their way onto the freshly arranged court, but was harassed by a grumpy, gremlin-like usher who seemed to think it was her personal responsibility to put me in my place by sending me back to the concourse. I quickly responded that I was indeed allowed to be there. When she asked me who had given me that consent, I pointed to my supervisor who was fortunately sitting a couple of rows up. Apparently, ushers try to keep us away from the court, because we're not supposed to have any contact with players. It's pretty absurd, and is completely to do with money. We, as fan photographers, are contracted by the Wizards to take photos of fans, and pay specifically for concourse passes. If we were to pay for event passes, it would be ten times the expense. It's not like management really cares about protecting the players as human beings. The players are considered products, the main investments of the organization, and in order to directly correspond with those products, I'd have to pay a zillion dollars to do it. The ushers are simply there to enforce a policy, and maybe they do realize that the system they're submitting themselves to is a dehumanizing, and slightly exploitative means of keeping everyone in their respective places depending on their monetary value to the Monumental Sports empire, but somehow I think they're oblivious to this, and just commit to their assignment of harassing those without credentials faithfully. At the end of the day, we're all human beings. If I take a picture of an NBA player, it's no different than me taking a picture of a fan, or of a Verizon Center employee. But the player is worth a lot more money, and therefore the corporation, that being the Washington Wizards, or in a broader sense, the NBA, attempts to restrict my rights to have any chance of creating marketable photos using its products as the subject. Although there is no fathomable possibility of those restrictions being relinquished, it would be nice to have more leverage to pursue artistic endeavors within the context the NBA.

Wizards guard John Wall, right, and foward Trevor Ariza, left, relaxing during pregame warmups
John Wall, foreground, chatting with fellow former Kentucky Wildcat, and current Houston Rockets forward, Terrence Jones
John Wall warming up an hour and a half before tip-off
A Capitals employee, left, and a Wizards employee, right, lend each other a helping hand to set up the press table
The court-side thrones: A pile of event level chairs waiting to be set up
An employee fixes some unhinged chairs in the lower level
It was an energetic crowd on hand to celebrate Asian heritage night, no doubt in correlation with the presence of Jeremy Lin, so there were plenty of photos to be taken. Most of the employees in the arena, including myself, and my fellow photographers, were completely drained after working the Capitals game earlier. Despite a late push, I wasn't able to get much more than 400 photos. I think I had taken almost 500 pics at the Capitals game, but I had run out of steam a little by the end of the Wizards game, so I was glad to catch the end of what turned to be a surprisingly close contest that Washington narrowly won 105-103. The Wizards had trailed 94-88 with 6:21 left in the 4th quarter, but went on a 7-0 run to take the lead. Washington led by 2 with under a minute to play, but James Harden tied the game at 103 on a lay-up with 21.4 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Emeka Okafor was fouled inside by Omer Asik, and made the first free throw, but missed the second. Fortunately for the Wizards, Bradley Beal came down with the rebound, and was quickly fouled with 1.9 seconds left. Beal went only 1 of 2 from the line, but the Rockets were out of timeouts so could not advance the ball to mid-court for a better look than a James Harden half-court heave that was blacked by Trevor Ariza.

Beal led the Wizards to what was their sixth win in eight games with 21 points and 5 rebounds. Trevor Ariza contributed 18 points and 6 assists off the bench, and Emeka Okafor had another double-double, tallying 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Houston was led by Harden with 27 points and 6 assists. Chandler Parsons added 24 points and 7 assists in the loss. Meanwhile, Lin, the big draw for the evening, only managed 5 points and 6 assists on 2-9 shooting from the field.