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|| News Item: Posted 2004-03-30

Scenes from a Sub Regional: Adventures in the Emerald City from Elevators to Escolar
By Rod Mar, The Seattle Times

Photo by Scott Sommerdorf / San Francisco Chronicle

Photo by Scott Sommerdorf / San Francisco Chronicle

Rod Mar, right, and Robert Beck get an unexpected visitor on Thursday afternoon.
The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament recently hit Seattle, Washington, and photographers from all around the country descended on our rainy town known more for Starbucks than slam-dunks.

I was there, too, covering the games for the Seattle Times and also on special assignment from Sports Shooter. My job? To get a glimpse of life at the Big Dance, and see how established pros and Sports Shooter members Robert Beck, Kohjiro Kinno, and Robert Seale make their magic.

Tuesday, March 16 -- A Man of Mystery

It's noon. A young man walks off a jetway from an inbound Alaska Airlines flight at SeaTac International Airport in Seattle. He's dressed casually, giving passersby no clue to his identity, nor his mission in the Emerald City.

His name? Kohjiro Kinno.

His job? International man of mystery. Not really. Actually, he's a photo assistant, but not just ANY photo assistant. "Kojo", as he is more commonly known, is assistant to Sports Illustrated staff photographer Robert Beck.

He heads to KeyArena, site of the games, and gets right to work. Heading high into the rafters above the basketball floor, which is still being prepared for play, he turns on the strobes. After a bit of detective work, he figures out how the "locals" in Seattle have the place wired, and begins to take meter readings, making slight adjustments to strobe heads so the court will be lit evenly.

Tip-off for the first game is still two days away, and his boss, Robert Beck, won't arrive until tomorrow.

Kojo's not feeling well, but it doesn't stop him from his appointed rounds. He spots a nearby men's room, gets ill in the first sink he sees, and decides to call it a day.

His dinner will be a pitcher of iced tea.

This is life in the big leagues.


Wednesday, March 17 - The Day Before …

9am, KeyArena --- Remotes and Rafters

Kojo arrives at the arena, and among his first orders of business is hanging an overhead remote camera above one of the baskets. Accessing the overhead spots at KeyArena is no easy task. First, he must climb the stairs to the top row of seats. Then, he passes through a gate into the catwalk area. The strobes are fairly conveniently placed, along a rectangular walkway that rings the court.

But the overhead spots are a different story. Anyone hanging a remote must then walk a steeply pitched walkway (think 60 degrees or so) up to the absolute top of the arena (also known as the apex) before descending down a similar ramp towards the baskets. Combined with short walls and rails that slope AWAY from the person walking them, the feeling that one could stumble and fall is as apparent as the seats far below.

Spotting the ideal place for the remote, Kojo climbs up onto a rail, hangs partially over the hardwood court some 80 feet below him and attaches a camera and lens. He clamps it securely, adds safety lines, and moves to his next project.

Meanwhile, I finally show up. I'm going to act like a big shot too, and hang an overhead. Actually, I used to hang remotes all the time back in days before digital, when cameras were affordable, and there were plenty of old bodies to hang from rafters. The main reason I don't do it anymore is that we don't have any extra digital bodies at the paper. Can't afford them, apparently. But I've borrowed one for today.

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Kojo Kinno answers questions in the interview room.
Up there, among the hot arena lights, my hands are sweaty and I'm leaning over the court with a Canon 1d, a 400/2.8, and trying to clamp it and safety it and aim it all at the same time. I think, "Kojo must be an octopus to do this by himself."

Then I think, "I hope I don't drop this thing.... what kind of hole would THAT make in a basketball court?"

Next to arrive is Sporting News staffer Robert Seale. He calls on his cell phone and we meet back on the arena floor. He's interested in hanging an overhead remote. Told that the ideal lens on a Canon 1d from the rafters is a 400/2.8, Seale momentarily has second thoughts. He stares into the lights high above the floor, and asks, "You're SURE?".

Minutes later, Seale is slowly tiptoeing down the ramp, his 6'2", 220 pound frame lurching forward with every downward step. "Oh, man, I'm not so sure about this, " he says, peeking over the edge into the abyss below.

I look at him, "C'mon, this must be nothing for you.... you hang remotes all over the country." Seale retorts, "not anywhere like this, man -- I DON'T like heights, man."

With our help (okay, mostly Kojo's but a LITTLE of mine) Seale gets his lens clamped and spotted. Even though I did mine by myself, I'm still leery of the height. "I can't watch".

As we descend, I catch a glimpse of Seale. "Dude you are SWEATY!!!" He looks down at his chest, where he's sweated through two shirts. "I'm bringing extra shirts tomorrow."

We look at Kojo. He's worn a sweat jacket the entire time. There is not a bead of sweat on him. Seale shakes his head. "Man, you are UNREAL."

Kinno smiles slightly. "See that restroom right there? I puked in there yesterday. I didn't feel so good. But I cleaned it all up."

Seale looks at him again. "Unreal."

4:30pm -- The Dreaded Lighting Test

At 4:30 local time at any NCAA tournament venue, anyone using strobes must meet on the floor with a CBS representative. The purpose of the meeting is to fire all the sets of strobes so that the network can check the brightness and durations of the flash pops and how they affect their cameras and slow-motion replays.

Seale's been through this many times before. He coaches the others on what to expect. The CBS technician tells the shooters that their strobes have been deemed one-stop too hot. "You'll need to turn them down one-stop", he instructs.

I wonder how accurate the test is. Just to check, I pop the same set that Kojo had been told was too hot.

"How are those? Better?" he asks the CBS rep. The tech looks at his screen, listens to something in his headphones, and says, "Nope...those are a stop hot too."



Thursday, March 18 -- Game Day.

9:30 a.m. Bass Drum for Breakfast?

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Kojo Kinno answers more questions in the interview room.
Everyone has arrived early, and tip-off for the first game is 11:40. For the magazine shooters, the morning is spent focusing remotes, checking and rechecking cords, radio frequencies and strobe lines. The newspaper shooters spend an hour getting their transmitting areas set up, checking lines, and sending test photos back to their desks.

Kinno, the superhuman assistant, is organizing Beck's five floor remotes. Combined with the overhead camera, and the three bodies that Beck himself will shoot with himself, the dynamic duo will be responsible for nine cameras.

Everything is going swimmingly so far. Beck is nice enough to find space for me far inside towards the hoop so I won't be out towards the corner. I can't see one corner of the court but our shooter on the opposite side of the court is out towards the sideline. This way the Times should get two distinct looks at the game.

Suddenly, the Alabama pep band arrives. Resplendent in their crimson blazers and ties, they begin to set up. The bass drummer, a big heavyset kid who looks like he could beat a bass drum into submission, sets himself directly behind Kinno and Seale.

Seale's face says, "NO!!!!

Me? I'm conveniently shooting from the opposite end, so I come over and offer the kid $20.00 if he'll start playing now and not stop until the end of the game.

Seale gives me a look that suggests, "Oh, but if I were Barry Bonds and your little head was a hanging curveball...."

Kojo? He's not bothered in the least. He simply puts in the earplugs he always carries and settles down behind his floor remote. "You could feel it through the floor" he says of the pounding. "It was kind of cool."

1:00 pm -- Water? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Water!

The NCAA, in their kindness (did I just use the word NCAA and kindness in the same sentence?) offers us cold water during timeouts. At first we say no. But somewhere in the middle of the third game of the day with no break and no food, those cups of water begin to look like prime rib sandwiches.

Whenever the CBS camera guy comes over to shoot next to the post, I nearly end up in Robert Beck's lap.

"Could we get some breath mints with that water, sir?"

9:00pm --- Dinner anyone?

Photo by Kojo Kinno

Photo by Kojo Kinno

Robert Beck and Kojo Kinno are stuck in the elevator.
Everyone's beat, and so we make plans for dinner the next night. Beck wants Mexican, Seale keeps raving about some fish he once had in Seattle called "Escolar" that he swears is the best fish he's ever had, "and I'm not even much of a fish guy!"

I keep thinking about the message board thread regarding barbeque. How can a guy from Texas who barbeques on a gas grill be an expert on fish in Seattle?

Me? I don't care where we go. My wife Mia is coming with us, and it's a chance to leave the kids with a sitter for a couple of hours and act like adults.

As if one could act like an adult when in the company of photographers - especially the ever-hilarious Robert Beck.


10:30pm. The Sheraton Hotel. Love in an Elevator

It's been a long day. Four basketball games, no food, and Beck and Kojo have been to the airport to ship film and disks back to the Sports Illustrated headquarters in New York.

Once back in the hotel, they head to the elevators, dreaming of food and rest.

The elevator rises, and then … stops. Between floors. Just like in the movies.

Beck whips out his cell phone. 911? Nope. He dials up the only apparent person to call in a dire situation like this - Brad Mangin. Why? Is Mangin an expert at high-angle elevator rescue? Does he have some special side specialty in elevator engineering? Is Mangin's the ONLY number on Beck's speed dial?

Mangin, sound asleep in his posh digs at the Marriott Suites in Scottsdale, Arizona (where he is covering Spring Training) answers the phone groggily before falling back asleep and returning to his dreams of baseball, cigars and Rich Pilling.

Through the tiny speaker in the elevator, a kindly hotel employee named Shannon communicates with the dynamic duo. "We're calling our engineers," says the female voice, "until then, is there anything we can do for you?" Beck, half-jokingly asks for food. Getting bolder, the subject of free massages is brought up. She tells them not to push their luck. Food is ordered. Kojo makes sure to ask for cheesecake. It's one of his favorites. He wonders briefly if the elevator might fall. "It was kinda scary" he later confessed.

But these are pros, Beck and Kojo. With no one else to call, they get to work. Opening bags and cases, they begin downloading cards from the day's take.

An hour-and-a-half later, just as they are about to start burning DVD's, the elevator lurches, and stops at their floor. No warning, it just starts working again.

Beck and Kojo hustle out. As they open the door to Beck's room, they are greeted by a welcome sight -- salads, grilled salmon and ... cheesecake.

Friday, March 19. The Off-Day.

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Kojo doesn't like being stranded in the elevator.
The day between games is easy for all shooters except the wire services. Workouts are closed to the media and the only media availability is the press conferences by the four teams who will play on Saturday. No one shoots these except the wire services. Poor bastards.

The S.I. guys spend the day working on a feature story on one of the teams. Seale runs errands, downloads disks and burns DVD's.

Me? I've got the day off and spend it with my kids. It's nice being at home when everyone else is "on the road".

We gather for dinner at Roy's, a Hawaiian place in the Westin. We hear the elevator story and argue about how much they could have gotten from the Sheraton for their trouble.

A consensus is made that decide you probably can't get Starwood's Platinum Preferred status for life, but you could maybe have gotten more than some salmon.

My wife Mia and I keep an eye on the game between Washington and U.A.B. playing on the TV. If Washington and/or Gonzaga advances to the Regional in St. Louis, I'll be on the road with them.

For dinner Robert Seale is amazed that they have the mysterious Escolar. He orders it. On his recommendation, so do I. Tastes like scrod (just kidding, Robert!).

At dessert, Kojo orders cheesecake.

Saturday, March 20. Two more games

10:00 a.m. Brisket for Breakfast?

Everything is pretty much in order from the first day of games, so we have time to head to the pregame meal. And, for breakfast, they serve...lunch.

Along with deli sandwiches, they serve some sort of meat-like substance floating in a brown sauce. When pressed, the nice lady tells us it's Barbequed Beef Brisket. I look at Denny Livingston, our lighting assistant at Sonics games (also played in KeyArena). "Didn't they just serve this to us last week?"

We pass on the "brisket".

Coffee and cookies make a swell breakfast.

11:00 a.m. Beach Basketball Anyone?

Robert Beck debuts his new camping chair for sitting on the baseline. You've seen them, right? Made of foam and nylon, folds flat, usually blue, or green in color.

Beck's is a bright red-and-white floral print. Aloha!!!

3:00 p.m. Bracket Busters!!!

Gonzaga has choked on its brisket and lost to upstart Nevada. It's a huge story, so Sports Illustrated calls Beck on his cell phone and wants his film and disks sent to New York ASAP.

Kojo, babysitting remotes, changing film, making umpteen runs to the catwalks, finds time to call for a courier during the Stanford game. They too, lose, and office pools everywhere are in shambles. None of this shakes Beck, Kojo, or Seale. They make their pictures, get them sent off.

After the game, the courier arrives, and Beck's film makes a late flight for the east coast. Kojo has worked his magic again.

Beck's shoot will earn him the cover of Sports Illustrated, as well as a double-truck opener and numerous shots inside.

Seale's work will be prominently displayed in the Sporting News, but as a shooter on a smaller staff, his tourney is just beginning. He'll head home to Houston for a couple of days before jetting to Phoenix for the regional games, and then closer to home for the Final Four in San Antonio.

As for me, when Washington and Gonzaga lost, my tournament was over, at least on the men's side. I spent Sunday canceling hotel and air reservations, and making plans for covering the West Regional of the NCAA women's tourney, which would be hosted at the University of Washington the following week.

I make sure to get a spot away from the bass drums.



I learned so much from all three of these men. Robert Seale gave me a lesson on using Multi-Maxes that I'll never be able to repay him for.

Robert Beck had to put up with all my shit for six games. Every time I'm near him, I learn something, even if it's about cheerleaders. Seriously, he is all about grace under pressure. He's shooting six games, chatting away as if we're at the beach, and meanwhile he's making all those killer images.

As for Kojo, I just want someday to be as cool as him. If you want to be inspired, check out his website at

(Rod Mar is a staff photographer with the Seattle Times and a regular contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter. He will teach the Jedi Master: Basketball breakout at the Sports Shooter Workshop & Luau 2004.)

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