I set foot on Los Angeles soil for good in August of 1980 with a freshly printed degree in Physical Therapy from the University of Connecticut and one goal in mind, to become a Photographer for Sports Illustrated. If that sounds screwed up, welcome to my world. I had my first introduction to Photography when my Dad, also a shutterbug, bought me my first 35 mm camera in the 8th Grade. I was instantly enthralled with the whole process and kept after it until my sophomore year in High School. I was a chubby bookworm my entire childhood, and would rather read the latest edition of Marvel or DC comics with my friend Barry (may you rest in peace, you were way ahead of the curve in the Comic Book Universe), but my older brother Henry would drag my butt to the open field a few houses down on Murray Street in Ansonia, Connecticut, where I would snap the football to him and get pounded by someone twice my size while he tossed perfect spirals to my friends. I played sandlot Baseball at the Ansonia high school field, then down the block to the blacktop court at Willis elementary School, where I would routinely get the Basketball shoved down my throat by someone with superior talent. In the summer between 9th and 10th grades, I seemingly woke up one day 4 inches taller and 25 pounds slimmer. Although taller, my skill level remained in the beginner class. Dunking was impossible, shooting was an adventure, but the game became immensely more fun, and I found a disturbing fact about myself that stayed with me to this day; I didn’t like losing.
I was that guy who tried to make up for lack of talent with playing harder than everyone. The Ansonia Projects on Olson Drive was the place where the real ballers played every afternoon, and by my Junior year in High School my friends on the Varsity took pity enough to let me play (actually they just needed 10 guys). Those games were enough to let me know for certain, I had absolutely no future in Basketball, on any level. The Chess team was more my speed. The Varsity Basketball Coach, who was also my High School French teacher (don’t go there) thought although I was a good student, I should show participation in sports on my college application. So he gave me a JV uniform where I routinely got waxed by my buddies on the varsity in practice. Coach offered me a 12th man spot on the Varsity my senior year, but I chose to be team manager and play city league with my other “B” level friends, where I had a terrific time . My Junior year of 1973 was extra special because when alone on the court, I could emulate my favorite player, Walt Clyde Frazier of the New York Knicks. The priceless memories of the punishing one on ones with Henry, who was an Earl “the Pearl”Monroe disciple, on the courts by his apartment, then going to watch the Knicks take on the Bullets, Celtics and Lakers for the 1973 title brings incredible joy to my heart (and residual pain to the joints).
UConn was more of the same, where my roommates would try to get me out of the Library onto the court, whers the competition level was upgraded by a factor of a million. I played a couple of semesters of intramurals, then retreated to the sanctuary of Human Anatomy and Physiology. In 1977, the year Bill Walton and Julius Erving battled for the NBA Championship, I rediscovered Photography through my work-study job in the University Photo Services, doing grunt work for 3 Professional and 3 student Photographers who covered every University event. One of their major assignments was covering UConn Team sports, and as low man on the totem pole, I started out covering UConn’s fledgling Soccer program (which by the way went on to win the NCAA Championship in 1980).
UConn Basketball was my first love (my roommate Mike was a guard on the team), and it was while shooting those games that my desire to become a better sports photographer grew, with the hopes of someday earningn at least part of my living behind the lens. In the summer of 1980 a friend from my hometown landed a job at Time Warner in New York, where he arranged a meeting with the Photo Editor of Sports Illustrated, John Dominis. Mr. Dominis looked at my portfolio and gave me a gift of a lifetime, kind compliments of my work. His exact words were “ you have pictures here that are good enough to get into the book” (he called SI “the book”).
Sports Illustrated was the bible for sports photographers, the holy grail. The SI staff was the best of the best, and their pictures chronicled the games people play and the people that play them with phenomenal timing, creativity and passion; their pictures set and reset the bar each week for the decisive moments of sport. No angle or perspective went unexplored, they were always trying to evolve. The magazine would take daily submissions from freelance photographers all over America, which they called stringers, but their staff took the bulk of the photos seen each week. Walter Iooss, Jr. was my favorite SI photographer; he captured both the intimacy of the athlete as well as the action of the contest. Manny Millan took some of my favorite Basketball shots, and Neil Liefer, a pioneer in sports photography in Life Magazine and SI, had a brilliant career whose work was inspiring.
Another monthly sports magazine, aptly name Sport, featured a photographer named John McDonough, whose work was spectacular, and his photos were a joy to look at every month. John is now on the staff of Sports Illustrated. I would pore over every photo in every magazine each week, trying to learn something from them. Although I worked like a dog to get my Physical Therapy degree, I wanted to open Sports Illustrated one day and see my name next to the photo. That one desire drove me near insane for 9 years.
PHOTOGRAPHY COPYRIGHT STEVEN A ROSEBORO
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
STEVEN A ROSEBORO
The foray into the international market led to sales to publications in England and Spain, who sponsored travel to the All Star Weekends. I had the extreme honor of having one of the best seats in the house to witness the revolution of Showtime, and photographed the Laker Championships Series vs. Philadelphia in 1982 and 1983, vs. Boston in 84, 85 and 87, the incredible Back to Back series win vs Detroit in 1988 and Kareem’s curtain call in 1989. The NBA’s growth was incredible during these years, and the excitement still palpable.
From 1985 to 1987, my day job as a Physical Therapist for the Kerlan Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Inglewood, California, about 3 blocks from the Forum, gave me a different look at the Lakers, who would come to the facility under the watchful eye of Dr. Robert Kerlan, the Yoda of Sports Medicine, Dr. Steven Lombardo, Laker Orthopedist ,Clive Brewster, Chief Physical Therapist, a master of his craft who nursed the Lakers through long term rehabilitation when needed in conjunction with Gary Vitti, Laker Trainer. Mitch Kupchak now Laker General Manager, a true gentleman and professional in every sense of the word, worked through grueling two a days on his reconstructed knee at KJOC, and it was a special treat to see him back on the court contributing to the team’s breakthrough win in 1985 Championship vs. the Celtics.
The NBA realized the tremendous demand for foreign media credentials and photos were exploding exponentially, and formed NBA International in the later part of the decade, a photopool from which foreign publications could purchase pictures with ease, but unfortunately eliminated the need for the freelancer. I never reached my goal of the Sports Illustrated shot, although I would submit on speculation over those years. Inside Sports was my only national sports magazine that published my photos, although I came across my shot via the NBA of retired Center Tree Rolllins in a Sports Illustrated Website Article featuring the former Atlanta big man, so that will have to do. I left photography and turned my focus to starting my first Physical Therapy Practice in Torrance, California in 1991, and my second in Hawthorne California from 1998 to 2016.
I see the occasional Laker or Clipper game in person, but mostly I still suffer with the Knicks and root for the Lakers. Showtime had an everlasting influence on how you view the game, and fans of Championship teams in Boston, Detroit, Chicago or San Antonio will probably tell you the same thing.
The sheer volume of talent and level of competition from top to bottom in the decade of the eighties was the motivation for putting my fingers on the keyboard and going down memory lane with my images ; hopefully my joy will translate to an entertaining evening or two of memories for some and a NBA history lesson for others.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF BASKETBALL
BY STEVEN A. ROSEBORO
2013 HALL OF FAME CEREMONY SPRINGFIELD, MASS.
Los Angeles was a sports photographers dream in 1980, with Pro Football’s Los Angeles Rams, talk of the Raiders coming down from Oakland in the near future, and a fledgling new United States Football League team, the LA Express which would also play in the LA Coliseum. There were the Dodgers, the Angels, hockey’s Kings, and of course the newly minted 1980 NBA Champion Lakers, featuring my second favorite Basketball player of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. College Sports and Semi-Pro Soccer teams were everywhere, both Indoor and Outdoor. What I didn’t envision was the hundreds of freelance photographers with the same dreams that I had. The competition for credentialing to events was overwhelming, and the limited number of sports publications had the upper hand to pick from hundreds of submissions each week.
Needless to say, photographers were starving trying to get a break. I was relatively secure with my day job as a Physical Therapist at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood (a 2 block walk to the Forum), but my passion and drive was as intense as anyone’s on the sideline. I saw near fistfights break out to get a better vantage point during games; people were scrapping for their professional lives, and were testy about it. There was no Spirit de Corps among photographers, it was survival of the fittest at the highest level, as intense as any sports rivalry. Freelance Photographers are like their own islands, learning to keep their heads up and their skins thick against all odds; the expenses pile up and rejection is as common as the cold; the best get over it and keep shooting. A savvy combination of technician, salesman, and business manager, sports photographers had to believe in themselves to an almost irrational level, until they convince the right people to believe in them as much.
I scratched and clawed enough to get a small body of work to start send to publications, starting with soccer for a local publication. The occasional Laker credential was few and far between in 1980-1981, and I would buy a ticket (and tickets back then, believe it or not were both available and affordable) and shoot from my seat in the early days. After awhile, a benevolent Usher would let me slip down to the floor and blow off a few rolls.
The Los Angeles Sentinel, the premier African American newspaper in the city, would also credential me for LA King games, and a few Laker contensts. My first published piece of black and white basketball was to Basketball Monthly in for $15.00 and it might have been $1000.00. In the beginning, I shot hockey, football and Soccer to build a portfolio, but Basketball was my focus. Players Magazine ( an African American version of Playboy, but I just read the articles), had a Sports section that first allowed me to combine my writing with photography, and I published pieces on African Americans in the NBA, Hockey, Track and Field and Golf over the years.
In the midst of this madness three events set my future course and led to this book. Out of the dozens of Photographers I met in my first year in the trenches that wouldn’t give me the time of day, I made a connection with a young man living in Pasadena, struggling like everyone else, but from the east coast like myself, so we started to hang out at games. Andrew D. Bernstein had dreams just like myself of hitting the big time, and he had the skill, the brains, the motivation and the will to back up his dreams. Andrew, like myself had an intense love of Basketball, and he was already on the move in his business plan, which was to conquer the Sports Photography world the old fashioned way, by outworking everyone else.
Andrew forged a relationship with the NBA that lasts to this day as the head of NBA Photos, the official photographers of the league. I watched as Andy put in 18 hour days for the remainder of the decade, first as a contributing NBA photographer, then lead Photographer. He taught me an immense amount of photography, and boosted my confidence whenever I needed it, which I tried to give back to him. We spent hours on the roof of the Forum and later the LA Sports arena when the Clippers came to town, laying down miles of wire over the years to prepare the 4 corners of the arena with studio strobe lights, then take them down late into the night when the Forum was empty. In his spare time from the NBA, Andy was the official photographer of the LA Clippers and the LA Dodgers, covering every big event from the Super Bowl to the Olympics and contributing to every major sports publication in the United States and around the world. I was able to assist him with NBA regular season and playoff games from 1983-90, and traveled to All Star weekends in Dallas, Chicago, Houston and Miami, where Andy worked 24 hours a day, no lie.
I remember spreading 35mm film cans across an entire king size bed at All Star Weekend in Dallas in 1986 and not seeing the bedspread. He has remained a true friend over the years and earned every single accolade he has received.
My second visit with good fortune occurred during a summer league Basketball shoot in 1982, which was featuring a tune up prior to the NBA return of center Bill Walton that fall. A young lady approached me after the game looking for Walton pics, her name was Lorin Pullman, and she was the PR Director for the Los Angeles NBA Summer League. She liked my shots and told me to look her up in the fall, as she was going to work for the LA Laker Public Relations Department. She introduced me that fall to new Laker PR Director Josh Rosenfeld, who supplied my photo credentials for the next 6 years. The next stroke of luck came a few years later compliments of a gentleman from Rusconi Publishers of Milan, Italy who was looking for NBA photographs for an Italian Basketball weekly publication called SuperBasket. The foreign media were clamoring for anything NBA, and the game was becoming as popular around the world as in the states. I covered the NBA’s Western Conference for SuperBasket from 1985-1990.
WITH ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN, NBA PHOTOS, 1986 ALL STAR WEEKEND, DALLAS TEXAS