Saturday, April 5, 2008
As March Madness melted into April and the Final 4, anyone who knew anything about my previous professional life (covering Kansas basketball almost exclusively for nine seasons, 250 games home and away, and 6 Final Fours since 1986, as well as photographing KU games since at least 1977) asked several questions. I last covered the big dance in 2003 (a loss to Syracuse in the championship in pre-Katrina New Orleans). But, I came across my pictures from KU's loss to Maryland in the semifinals from 2002, and I wanted to share a few of my favorites from that night in Atlanta as well as my recollections about the Final 4 and covering sports.
Favorite Final 4 memory? After finishing covering practices in 1986 in Dallas, being asked by CBS to play in a pick up game to take the shine off the floor. I got to throw down a couple of dunks on the Reunion Arena floor in Dallas.
Second favorite Final 4 memory? Covering KU-OU in the 1988 finals. It felt like a Big 8 Tournament game (after all, it was in Kemper) until the final time out when it hit me that this was for the national championship. Access to the post game celebration was much better then--you could rush out onto the floor when the buzzer sounded to capture the jubilation. I still see myself, at least my chest, wearing a magent and navy striped polo short on the fringe of KU's clebration scrum when it is replayed ad nauseum during the tournament.
Least favorite Final 4 memory? Watching Archie Marshall limp off the floor with KU's chance for the crown against Duke in 1986.
Weirdest Final 4 memory? The NCAA allows SI only one set of strobes in the arena. SI sends 6 photographers. Many of them are in high perches with long lenses. They follow the action as "drones," but their cameras are rigged to fire only when the primary photographer on the floors fires his camera. It must be torture to follow focus and NOT be able to pull the trigger on a good picture. I stood next to one of these drone photographers and the monologue was x-rated and damned funny.
What's it like covering a Final 4? You're swallowed by a pack of know-it-all east and west coast sportswriters and TV types. The access is completely controlled by the NCAA. You cover a team all season, hoem and away and because you're not SI, you get a terrible position on the floor. Any emotion from the end of the chanpionship game is drained by the NCAA's management of the "celebration" for the benefit of TV. So, in the end, you pretty much have the same pictures as every other photographer, especially if you work for a newspaper. TV and big magazines get better access. Your bosses are continually asking if you have a picture of something they saw on TV (not stopping to think about the fact that TV has a jillion cameras at the event and you are by yourself and the NCAA won't let you put up a remote camera unless you are wire service or SI) or in a competitor's newspaper, fearful that they've been "beaten" because your pictures are not the same as their's.
Did I wish I was in San Antonio for the Final 4? No, not really. They are fun, but a lot of work. I've never been able to watch a KU Final 4 game without a camera in front of my face.
What do you miss most about not covering Kansas Basketball? Eating great food in great restaurants with someone else (my employer) picking up the tab. I love Mi Tierra's in San Antonio (Larry Brown told me about it when he was coaching the Spurs).
What do you miss least? Airline travel with cameras and the inane questions by sports writers and their almost universal lack of knowledge about anything outside of sports. For example, while traveling to a KU basketball game in Austin several years ago, I was in line at the ticket counter and noticed I was standing next to the singer/songwriter Shawn Colvin. I struck up a conversation, talked about how much I like her music and how she loves living in Austin. The 4 sportswriters I was traveling with overheard me telling a non-sportswriter I had been talking to Shawn Colvin. The sportswriter responded by asking me if Shawn was the prep standout from some Texas high school. Another asked me who Shawn played for. Come on.
In the end, it was lot of fun, albeit meaningless fun. I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything, but I'm glad that chapter in my life is closed.