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|| News Item: Posted 2009-06-25

A Long Journey: How Sports Illustrated Covered the NBA Finals
By Jordan Murph

Photo by Jordan Murph

Photo by Jordan Murph

John W. McDonough and Shawn Cullen can't believe that the basketball season is over!
After two long months on the road covering the NBA Playoffs in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Houston, and Denver for Sports Illustrated, the 2009 NBA Finals were upon us. With Orlando, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Denver in the conference playoffs, we didn't know where we would be for the Finals.

I assist staff photographer John W. McDonough and we covered the Western Conference Finals with our partner in crime, Shawn Cullen, who was there to lend us a hand and the occasional smile. Staff photographer Bob Rosato covered the Eastern Conference Finals with his assistant Kevin Liles. We all combined our forces to form one super photography team to cover the Finals from every angle.

Here's how the team was organized: Bob and John would photograph the games, Kevin and I would work with each photographer and TCB… take care of business, and Shawn would bounce back and forth from each photographer to lend a hand and also manage the Flash Wizard system for the 18 remote cameras we would have set up between both Bob and John.

It was nice to have half of the Finals in Los Angeles. Not only for the home team pride with us being based in So-Cal, but also because that meant games at home which made life a little bit easier! After a few days off after the Conference Finals, we all converged in Los Angeles early in the morning before Game 1 of the NBA Finals. We met up and headed to Staples Center to get started setting up our remote cameras.

It's vital to get there early to work with the NBA for remote positions. We set up the cameras and Flash Wizard system for each photographer to cover one half of the court. John would be covering the Lakers bench and Bob would be covering the Magic bench.

Each photographer had nine remote cameras aimed at their half of the court. The Flash Wizard system was set up so that each photographer could fire their near-court handheld cameras as well as their remotes on strobes while the ball was coming towards them. As soon as the ball went the other way, the other photographer began shooting on strobes again. While shooting down-court action, Bob and John both shot available light with the new Nikon D3's and 300mm f/2.8 lenses.

The NBA was great and we got to camera positions we needed in both Los Angeles and in Orlando at Amway Arena. John has an overhead, a shot clock, an elbow, and several cameras around the bowl such as 3-point cams, corners, rails, elevated sides and mid-courts. Bob had an oblique overhead, a glass, a low-post, and several cameras around the bowl as well.

Photo by Sports Illustrated

Photo by Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated 2009 NBA Finals Photo Crew before Game 5 in Orlando, FL. Bob Rosato, Jordan Murph, Kevin Liles, Shawn Cullen, John W. McDonough.
After a long day of setting up remotes we headed to Yard House for a nice dinner and then got some rest. To be safe and to avoid any potential issues, we headed back to Staples Center early in the morning before Game 1 even though we had pretty much everything set up. In order to get photos quickly to and the editors back in New York City we did a rolling transmit. I manned the computers during the games and Kevin and Shawn ran me cards so we had a continuous stream of pictures being moved out.

Game 1 went well as did Game 2. There was a WNBA game at Staples Center on one of the off days which caused us to have to take all of our cameras and Flash Wizards off of the hoops which was a pain in the butt but truly only a minor inconvenience!

After Game 2 on Sunday, we all hustled to tear down all the cameras and pack up in order to get to LAX in time to get our equipment on the last red-eye flight to Orlando that night. After a snafu in which we went to the passenger terminal on accident on account of bad information, we finally made it to the air cargo facility and with a little begging we got the equipment on the flight. At the same time, John was racing to fellow SI staffer Peter Read Miller's house to drop off our computers so that they could transmit pictures while we were all in the air the next day en route to Florida. Thanks, Peter!

The next day we all made our way across the country to Orlando, FL. Everyone arrived on schedule except for John who got stuck at DFW. We got the rental cars, bags, and gear and headed to Amway Arena for another set up. We worked till about midnight and got half of our setup done. Sweet! Working at Amway Arena was very easy. The people were nice and the AC was great after pushing 600 pounds of gear through the parking lot in 95-degree muggy conditions!

Games 3 and 4 went well too. We had another few days off before Game 5 on Sunday. We got to spend time chilling in the pool, Kevin got to compliment Shawn on his beautiful red beard, and we got to have some nice dinners with friends Ron Taniwaki and Mark Suban from Nikon, Inc. who were in town for the space shuttle launch. It was nice to have some fun!

When Sunday rolled around we were all hoping that the Lakers would clinch it to avoid the mad rush back to L.A.! We got to the arena pretty early to get everything dialed in and to also set up a few ambient light remote cameras for the post game celebration.

Photo by Jordan Murph

Photo by Jordan Murph

The photo editing area at Staples Center.
We worked as a team like all the games before which was important, especially for the championship game. As the outcome of the game was becoming apparent, we readied for the post game. In the last few minutes I came to the court and moved to the upper concourse with John so he could get a clear shot of the final moments, the jube, and the trophy presentation.

Kevin went to Bob as he shot the festivities from the court. We brought stepladders for the photographers so that they could get a better view too. Lakers win! The photographers went off-system and shot the post game using ambient light. Shawn made sure all of the remotes for both photographers fired with the strobes while Kevin and I made sure Bob and John could make their pictures.

The post game was pretty lackluster since the Lakers weren't on their home turf. No confetti! We packed up slowly and said goodbyes to all our photographer pals from around the country who we'd had the pleasure of getting to spend time with over the Playoffs and Finals. After rolling out of Amway Arena around 2:30 AM we made our way to Denny's for a post game meal and we got back to the hotel around 5:00 AM. We were tired but also satisfied with the hard work our team did and the pictures we made.

I know that we all had a lot of fun at the NBA Finals this year. We all knew that we could rely on each other to work hard and get the job done. It was like the photo Dream Team. The game is always better when you know you can rely on your teammates. This game was no exception.

As we said during The Finals: "Emanare!"

(Jordan Murph is a regular contributor to Sports Shooter. After graduating from the University of Hawaii last spring, he went to work as John McDonough's assistant.)

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