Old School NBA Hoops: When I was a rookie
Posted on January 9, 2010
Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics in action during a game against Rod Higgins and the Golden State Warriors at the Oakland Coliseum Arena in Oakland, California in 1988. (Photo by Brad Mangin)
Last night I went to see the Golden State Warriors play the Sacramento Kings with my good friends Humberto and Grover. I hadn’t been to an NBA game as a fan in many years, and last night was a wonderful opportunity to get together with friends for some pre-game food, beer and tequila before we found our seats to watch the ballgame inside Oracle Arena in Oakland.
I was very nostalgic when we got inside to watch the game. I regaled my friends with old stories about attending games in the old arena with my dad as a kid, and of shooting games when I started out as a young photojournalist in the 1980s. The arena we were sitting in was built several years ago inside the shell of the old Coliseum Arena. The new Oracle Arena is next door to the Oakland Coliseum where the Raiders and A’s have played for so many years. Because of this I had some deja vu moments last night as I walked into what looked like the old building, only to be surrounded by modern amenities.
I remember the first Warrior game I ever shot, way back in 1984 during my freshman year at Ohlone College. I was on staff at the weekly Ohlone Monitor newspaper and our intrepid sports editor Matt Schwab somehow figured out a way for the two of us to cover a Warrior home game against the Denver Nuggets. Those Warriors consisted of guys like Mike Bratz, Pace Mannion, Lester Conner (see below) and the truly awful Joe Barry Carroll. What an amazing experience! I can still remember Matt diving into the ice tubs full of cans of Budweiser they used to have in the press dining room before games. Matt was going to take advantage of every perk he could on our big trip outside of Fremont.
When I look back at some of my black and white pictures in my archive from Warrior games I shot during this time I marvel at their simplicity and how clean they look. Back then I would shoot with my Canon F-1 film camera and my awesome Canon 85mm 1.8 SSC mount manual-focus lens. The arena was really dark back then and the goal was to try and get an exposure of 1/500th @ 1.8 at the lowest ASA (before the days of ISO) possible. I would shoot Kodak Tri-X (400 ASA black and white film) and push it to 1600 ASA in order to get the exposure I needed. Back then the arenas were lit differently, with the crowd disappearing in the background giving me an awesome black background behind the players. The pictures you see in my archive (and above) were not burned down to look cleaner. That is the natural light fall off that existed back then. Notice the lack of bright LED ribbon adds running through the pictures, etc. A much simpler time that allowed for simpler (and better) pictures.
I shot a few games in black and white during my internship at the Contra Costa Times in 1987-88, but then we switched to shooting color negative film after that. Once we went to color everything changed. The look and feel of the images changed, as did the backgrounds and advertising that started to pop up all over the arena. Being at the game last night brought it all full circle for me. As I looked down on the floor and saw the photographers working the game I thought back to when I was down there many years ago. How difficult it was to manually focus and rush back to the paper on deadline- but how exciting it was find one sharp frame in your wet film, knowing that you would make deadline with a good picture and not embarrass yourself in tomorrow’s paper.
Yes, it is much easier to shoot basketball in 2010. The available light is so good. This factor, combined with the incredible quality of today’s professional digital cameras by Nikon and Canon, make for great looking pictures even if you are not shooting on strobes. I still think it was more fun in the old days when I could get to the arena early, dump my Domke bag and cameras on the floor under the basket in the spot I wanted to shoot from, and head into the press room for dinner. The Bud and Bud Light was on ice and YES- every once in awhile I would throw one down before the game, just to loosen up. Made some of my best pictures on those nights. It was sure different back then, and my cameras were always waiting for me on the floor after dinner.