Photographer in focus with courtside crash
By Mike Segar
For any photojournalist, when you cover events of any kind, be it sports or news or daily life, you really never want to be part of the story. Your assignment; to be present to make the best possible images of the events unfolding in front of you is a privilege, and ideally your only mark on the event itself is to come away with as compelling a visual record of what happened as you can under the byline REUTERS/Mike Segar…
However, sometimes… you just can’t get out of the way.
My assignment at the London 2012 Olympics along with my colleague Sergio Perez from Madrid, is basketball; 15 days of basketball games, 6 games a day, as nations compete for the Olympic Gold medal. Even for basketball lovers, that’s a lot of basketball.
This is my first time covering an Olympic basketball tournament. I have been fortunate enough in my career at Reuters to have covered many NBA Championships and NCAA championships. I love basketball as a sport that I play, love to watch and love to photograph. Action at the feet of the world’s best players is exciting and fun. My close friend and colleague at Reuters Shannon Stapleton and I spend many hours talking about the game. I always look forward to being on the court, close to the action of the NBA, NCAA and in this case the Olympics where many NBA stars are competing.
On day four of competition one of the world’s best teams, Spain, faced Australia in a second round match-up. The Olympics set up for photographers is somewhat different than for an NBA game. There are cardboard “A-boards,” a short angled wall bearing the Olympic rings and London 2012 logo, between us and the floor along the baseline. In an NBA arena photographers are slightly closer to the court and sit in one row with nothing between us and the court as we sit at the feet of the fans in the front row. At the Olympics, there are padded seats on the floor for us and then a bench behind us for a second row of photographers.
My editor for this tournament is Jeff Haynes, a veteran sports photographer and editor based in Chicago who was editing my pictures from Chicago through Reuters’ Paneikon remote picture editing system. In addition to my cameras and lenses, a laptop connected to our network was also placed behind my seat to ingest images from my cameras.
Now, anyone who has watched a number of NBA basketball games has surely seen a player occasionally tumble into the fans seated court-side or often over the photographers at the baselines of the court. In nearly 20 years of covering NBA basketball, I have had players land on me and fly over me many times.
Photographers generally try to absorb the impact when a player falls and try to protect their equipment and the player as best they can. It’s not easy! When a 6’-8” or 7’, 250 plus pound athlete moving quickly, dives to save a ball out of bounds or gets slammed off the court by an opponent into us, there is simply nowhere for us to go. Sitting cross-legged in floor seats cramped together with cameras, large lenses, laptop computers, and often floor remote triggered cameras, photographers are vulnerable. Yet my experience has mostly been that the players are really good at relaxing their bodies somehow as they land. We roll over in a heap and they are rarely injured and rarely injure us. Our photo equipment on the courts has taken a beating more than once. Yesterday was a bit different.
In the first half, Spain’s Rudy Fernandez, who plays for the Denver Nuggets in the NBA, suddenly sprinted at full speed from the far end of the court for a loose ball. “Uh-oh” I thought, “here he comes.” Colleagues were on either side of me and Fernandez was not slowing down. He just kept coming, diving for the ball and crashing directly into me at full speed. BANG! Eyes closed, hands up, it was a blur of arms and legs and a loud thump as we slammed backwards. All I could think of was that I was going to slam into the hard metal and wood bench behind me as I braced for impact.
As the smoke cleared and I looked up, Fernandez was basically lying in my lap head down eyes closed. He rolled forward slightly, moved his hands to his head, moaned loudly and stopped moving. He was in my lap, clearly injured on his head. I could see blood on his fingers on top of his head and apparently he was now unconscious for a few seconds, or nearly so. At this point I was not a photographer. I suppose I just kind of instinctively rubbed his arm and shoulder, kept my hands on his back and held him a bit and said “stay still, stay still man… You’re all right.” I didn’t actually know if he WAS all right at all, but all I could do was to try to comfort him for the 20 or 30 seconds it took the Spain trainers, players and staff to rush to his aid. Anyone would do the same for anyone else injured in their lap, right?
I looked up and realized that fellow photographers and TV crews were shooting the incident from all possible angles. I was in the center of this wreckage but I was not really hurt. A camera with a wide angle lens was somewhere in the strewn mess of my equipment at my side and for a moment I thought to try to find it and take pictures, but with Fernandez lying bleeding on my feet and me the only one trying to help a bit, that wasn’t going to happen.
As Fernandez was helped away, he gave me a quick hand slap and looked at me with a weak smile holding a towel to his bleeding head. A small pool of his blood was on the floor. Cameras were checked, blood washed away, computers reattached to networks, equipment sorted out and despite the referee constantly blowing his whistle and yelling at photographers to sit down so he could start the game despite the pool of blood not yet being cleaned up (he wisely ended up waiting) we went back to work. Fernandez received stitches in the locker room and even played a few short minutes in the second half but spent most of it on the bench with a large ice bag on his head. We were never sure what he hit his head on – A lens? A camera? The bench?
After the half ended I knew the other wire photographers were likely to move pictures of the scene to their editors. At first I was slightly annoyed at being identified in their captions and becoming the subject of a news picture. But later, when my friends and colleagues at AFP, Getty Images, AP, USpresswire and others all showed me their pictures of me holding the player as he was down, it was clear that my role as a journalist had, for that moment, ended innocently and out of my control and I was at least shown in a compassionate moment – that I can live with. Now, back to the marathon of games.
Thanks to Getty Images, Agence France-Presse, USA TODAY Sports and Associated Press for their courteous use of their photographs for this blog.